Late last year, I wrote about the com­ing “rev­o­lu­tion” being cre­at­ed by the ambi­tious use of sen­sors. My com­ments came in response to an arti­cle I read about how GE was in the process of “putting sen­sors on every­thing”, gen­er­at­ing a new indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion in which, in essence, machines could “feel” and express their feel­ings to oth­er machines.

Thus, you may hear the term “Inter­net of Things”, mean­ing that machines will soon be able to com­mu­ni­cate world­wide and inces­sant­ly pret­ty much the way humans do now. Here’s how I closed my post: “The Indus­tri­al Age may soon regain its lost glam­our and swag­ger – and revi­talise the world econ­o­my at the same time.”

It dawned on me today that many of my read­ers might think that state­ments such as that are, well, too good to be true. Yet, what excites me and many oth­ers about nextsens­ing is that it could be thought of as the study of too-good-to-be-true trends. And the world of “sen­sors on every­thing” caused me to check out some of the astound­ing devel­op­ments that are hap­pen­ing in this inven­tive field.

A sort-of off-the-wall site called justlorem.com recent­ly pub­lished a piece titled “Pre­pare for the Sen­sor Rev­o­lu­tion”. It’s a great overview of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary role of sen­sors. A few sen­tences near the top of the post cap­tures the mood of the entire piece: “Our com­plete soci­ety is going to be inter­ac­tive. Objects will be able to sense, rea­son, com­mu­ni­cate, and act. Our sur­round­ings will assess and mod­i­fy accord­ing to our wants and needs. It is not too far away; in fact, it has already begun.”

SensorsThe author goes on to talk about ways busi­ness can use sen­sors, includ­ing col­lect­ing data (nat­u­ral­ly), check­ing how things are going in a pro­duc­tion process (stage by stage), detect­ing pat­terns and trends in what con­sumers are buy­ing and using, and tak­ing the pulse (and so much more) in people.

That point about sen­sors in health care led me to a site called “Inside Activ­i­ty Track­ing” with what should be an entry into somebody’s head­line of the year: “Pro­teus Puts Sen­sors In a Pill: Make a Pow­er­ful­ly Inno­v­a­tive Activ­i­ty Track­ing Solu­tion for Health­care”. Even I start­ed to say, “Hey, this has to be too good to be true.” 

Their report is about a new com­pa­ny called Pro­teus Dig­i­tal Health. What’s that? Says the report: “Pro­teus was found­ed by a team of expe­ri­enced phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and tech­nol­o­gy pro­fes­sion­als who sought a solu­tion to the fact that near­ly 50% of patients do not receive the full ben­e­fit of pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tions due to poor self-admin­is­tra­tion, espe­cial­ly among elder­ly patients.” So, the idea of a pill-sen­sor fol­lows this line of reasoning:

This product’s sim­plic­i­ty and mar­ket poten­tial will make it a suc­cess. Pro­teus is sim­ple. Often med­ical devices are under­uti­lized because poten­tial users are reluc­tant to make dras­tic changes to their health rou­tine; this prod­uct only requires users to wear a patch and take one addi­tion­al, small pill to func­tion. Pro­teus will put pow­er­ful data and vital alerts in the hands of care providers. Accord­ing­ly, it will be valu­able to indi­vid­ual care­givers and busi­ness­es involved in assist­ed liv­ing and nurs­ing care, which are large, grow­ing markets.

This may sound like some­thing for the elder­ly, but if you have ever fogot­ten to take a reg­u­lar­ly required pre­scrip­tion pill, I can see the day where a sen­sor inside you sends you an e-mail with a reminder!

On a dif­fer­ent web­site, Bar­bara Peters Smith has writ­ten a nice sce­nario of what’s com­ing for all of us as we think about tak­ing care of our­selves and our loved ones in the not-too-dis­tant future:

If you are 55 years old, you could wake up 30 years from now to the warm, affec­tion­ate voice of your per­son­al care robot, ask­ing what you would like for break­fast and why you slept for only 5.8 hours last night instead of your usu­al 7.3.

After your mat­tress takes your morn­ing tem­per­a­ture, pulse and blood pres­sure read­ings, you might want to reach for the tablet on your bed­side table and tap the touch­screen to turn up your home’s heat by a few notch­es before you throw back the cov­ers. The robot can fetch your slippers.

As you rise and walk into your day, floor sen­sors might trig­ger an infrared scan of your gait and bal­ance, relay­ing the infor­ma­tion to a near­by nurs­ing cen­ter. If any­thing seems amiss, a car could be on its way to your home.

If not, your envi­ron­ment will con­tin­ue to gath­er data for a morn­ing sum­ma­ry sent — with your per­mis­sion — to the smart­phones of your sons or daugh­ters, relay­ing what you had for your morn­ing meal and whether you took all your medications.

I would only add to her great report that I think this will be hap­pen­ing long before her 30-year projection.

I say that because we already have tech­nol­o­gy that allows cam­eras to trans­mit images to wher­ev­er you want them: your desk­top com­put­er or the Inter­net or some social media site. And, as you know, the pow­er of today’s cam­eras dwarf what­ev­er pio­neer pho­tog­ra­phers dreamed of, main­ly because of the qual­i­ty of the sen­sors inside them. But, even bet­ter cam­eras are com­ing because bet­ter sen­sors are com­ing. Have you heard of graphene sen­sors? Asian Sci­en­tist has. Think on this:

Asian­Sci­en­tist (May 30, 2013) – Researchers at the Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Uni­ver­si­ty (NTU) in Sin­ga­pore have devel­oped a new sen­sor made from graphene that is a thou­sand times more sen­si­tive than cur­rent cam­era sensors.

Graphene is a mil­lion times small­er than the thick­est human hair and is made of pure car­bon atoms arranged in a hon­ey­comb struc­ture. It is known to have a high elec­tri­cal con­duc­tiv­i­ty among oth­er prop­er­ties such as dura­bil­i­ty and flexibility.

Their report stems from research pub­lished by a team led by Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor Wang Qijie in Nature Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. In Asian Sci­en­tist, the pro­fes­sor is quot­ed as say­ing, “We have shown that it is now pos­si­ble to cre­ate cheap, sen­si­tive and flex­i­ble pho­to sen­sors from graphene alone. We expect our inno­va­tion will have great impact not only on the con­sumer imag­ing indus­try, but also in satel­lite imag­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion indus­tries, as well as the mid-infrared applications.”

Too good to be true, you and I say, but in this realm of think­ing it seems that one astound­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty often leads to an equal­ly astound­ing one. The arti­cle reports that “not only is the graphene sen­sor 1,000 times more sen­si­tive to light than cur­rent imag­ing sen­sors found in today’s cam­eras, it also uses ten times less ener­gy as it oper­ates at low­er volt­ages, says Wang.”

I could eas­i­ly go on. Sen­sors are enabling a lot of peo­ple to engage in projects and activ­i­ties that many of us might deem “too good to be true”. But if you have an inter­est in nextsens­ing, you will quick­ly learn to refrain from ever think­ing or say­ing that phrase. The world today is, indeed, a won­der­land and I increas­ing­ly think I know what Lewis Car­roll meant when he wrote, “Some­times I’ve believed as many as six impos­si­ble things before breakfast.”

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