Sensors and Situational Intelligence

IHS analyst Tom Hackenberg opened the Sensor Technologies session of TGM by discussing the role of sensors in achieving situational intelligence. Tom likened the situational intelligence of an electronic device to the human intuition for people. He then went on to assess the extent of situational intelligence asking, “How is it Intelligent?”

Hackenberg introduced the concepts of environmental intelligence and functional intelligence, pointing out that the proliferation of sensors is enabling electronic devices to develop an understanding of their environment. This understanding has been achieved by combining the increasing quantity and variety of sensors with low power consumption electronic controllers and efficient software for fusing data from multiple sources, while the primary application processor of the device sleeps.

The presenter pointed out that this combination of sensors, controllers and software is called sensor fusion and forms the central element of situational intelligence. The Functional Intelligence aspect involves the practical electronic system design in hardware and software that is required to realize, for example, a mobile device comprising situational intelligence while offering key features such as long battery life. Hackenberg then went on to describe several use cases which illustrated implementations of situational intelligence.

In one case he cited the situation of a mobile device which is located in a bag or pocket. In this state he pointed out that “ambient light and RGB sensors can detect the highly reduced quantity and quality of the surrounding light. Motion sensors can be used to determine the device state in standby mode. Microphones can monitor ambient noise to determine if it is direct or muffled. Proximity sensors detect enclosures”. The speaker noted that the benefits of such device “awareness” is the ability for the device to adaptively toggle or alter volume and vibration intensity so, for example, the user could still hear or feel his mobile phone ring even though it was inside a pocket or bag.

In another example illustrating this “understanding usage context”, he cited the case where a device user is sleeping in which case: “Ambient light and RGB sensors can detect the reduced quantity and quality of the surrounding light as different from a bag. Microphone, RGB and motion sensors can differentiate a bedroom from a movie theater. Motion and pressure sensors, microphones and soft sensors can correlate the time of night with sleeping patterns and alarm time”. The user benefits he cited as accruing from the device’s contextual understanding include automatically implementing the user’s do-not-disturb settings.

He also pointed out that environmental data could be used to trigger data logging to evaluate sleep patterns allowing the device to wake the user at the most opportune time. Clearly this latter example would apply to users that employ activity band wearable devices and are inclined to monitor and log a variety of personal activities.

Hackenberg discussed in similar detail a number of other scenarios for achieving situational intelligence and contextual understanding in mobile devices. These examples included automatically silencing cell phones when socially appropriate, and automatically notifying appropriate authorities when an accident or emergency situation exists. He also went on to discuss possible applications to sensing emotional state for potential application to gaming interfaces, enhancing interactive interfaces of public information systems and commercial digital signage, as well as applications for medical care and vehicle safety.

In concluding his presentation, the analyst projected that the sorts of mobile device applications he envisioned would form the impetus for rising sales of sensor hub microelectronics for use in handsets, tablets and wearables to more than 1 billion units in 2016. As I listened to his talk, I was mildly alarmed thinking of various ways in which the wide variety and capability of our continuously sensing mobile electronic devices may lead to a life over examined. The presentation suggested a future life in which there is way too much information (TMI). – Phil Wright