Which sensors are coming to your next smartphone?

By Brian Dolan
07:09 am

Apple patent wireless health sensorsAccording to an interview with the general manager of the MEMS division of STMicroelectronics, Benedetto Vigna, smartphones will soon offer up a whole slew of new embedded sensors that could help to make mobile health services more accessible.

Vigna, whose company creates sensors for mobile devices, told the New York Times that he expects more sensors to find their way into our mobile phones leading to even more medical, health and fitness applications. He believes location-based services will become even more accurate in the short-term with some devices adding altimeter sensors to the already compelling GPS location data. Altimeters will mean apps could determine elevation changes in fitness apps. The altimeter could also determine what floor a person is on inside a building -- potentially useful data for first-responders relying on location data to find a person in need of medical attention.

In addition to altimeters, Vigna sees more phones including heart-rate monitors as well as sensors to detect perspiration and microphones, temperature and humidity sensors for more environmental data.

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The introduction of extra sensors into consumer phones and other devices will really be just the first step into finding sensors everywhere according to Vigna. He states that in the next few years we will be seeing sensors in our socks, shoes, glasses and household fixtures like the garbage can -- all aimed at measuring a person's environmental health factors. (Of course, that's a great prediction for the future of Vigna's company, too -- so we'll have to wait and see how widespread embedded wellness sensors become.)

Last week Ford demonstrated a handful of research projects it has been working on during the past few months, including one with SDI for its Allergy Alert application, which could warn drivers of pollen count, flu incidence or UV rays for the area that they drive through. Asthmapolis has been working on a GPS-enabled asthma device that pairs with a smartphone, too. Each of these initiatives are part of the geomedicine trend, which Bill Davenhall evangelized in a TEDMED presentation in 2009.

As we have reported in the past, Apple has filed a number of patents showing that it is indeed working towards Vigna's predictions. The company filed a 'smart garment' patent in April 2010 which involves clothing that can transmit location and physiometric data wirelessly to an "external data processing device"--read iPhone. The company also has patents for an activity monitor for tracking acceleration, an earbud that measures a user's blood oxygen level, body temperature, heat flux and heart rate, and a heart-rate monitor that can be embedded into a device like an iPhone to be used as a way to identify a user or determine the user's mood.

For more, read the New York Times article (sub. req.)


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