USA Today on digital sensors

by Bruce Kasanoff on January 26, 2011

Earlier today, USA Today published an article that began: surveillance cameras at airports, subways, banks and other public venues are not the only devices tracking you. Inexpensive, ever-watchful digital sensors are now ubiquitous.

That’s true. But the article understates what’s happening, by not revealing the immense breadth and depth of digital sensors.

There are so many types of sensors available that even Sensors Magazine has a tough time keeping up. Here’s their online Buying Guide with links to thousands of vendors, but editor Melanie Martella admits they don’t yet have categories for some of the newer types of sensors.

To give you a general sense of the types of sensors out there, here are Sensor Magazine’s current sensor categories:

Acoustic and Audio
Chemical
Density and Specific Gravity
Displacement
Electrical and Electromagnetic
Encoders and Resolvers
Environmental
Flow
Force
Gas
Humidity and Moisture
Level
Linear Position
Orientation Position
Pressure
Proximity or Presence
Rotary Position
Safety Sensors and Switches
Security Sensors and Switches
Temperature
Tension
Tilt
Torque
Vacuum
Velocity
Vibration and Acceleration
Viscosity
Vision
Weather

Why is this important to customer experience? Because sensors enable some of the most innovative apps. The original iPhone included three sensors: an accelerometer, a proximity sensor and an ambient light sensor, and these not only made the phone seem intelligent (the display changes when you hold it up to your face or take it into a dark room), but they also powered many of the over 300,000 apps developed over the past three years.

USA Today also wrote: several developments have converged to push the monitoring of human activity far beyond what George Orwell imagined. Low-cost digital cameras, motion sensors and biometric readers are proliferating just as the cost of storing digital data is decreasing. The result: the explosion of sensor data collection and storage. Over the next couple of years, the volume of data generated by digital sensors will surpass the flow of e-mails and social-network entries combined, predicts Stephen Brobst, chief technical officer at data analytics firm Teradata. “Sensors will touch nearly every aspect of our lives,” he says.

I agree. But you don’t have two years to react. It’s happening right now. Some experts say there are already more than one trillion sensors out there. Yes, trillion. Truth is, no one knows for sure, but it’s a heck of a lot more than you would think.

Sensors enable companies to separate truth from fiction, to provide services that both dazzle and delight customers, and to build a substantial competitive advantage.

Truth from fiction: retailers can discover how customers actually move through their store, manufacturers can monitor the performance of their products in real time, and nearly any firm can better understand the needs – and actions – of its customers.

Dazzle customers: too many companies lag badly behind their smartphone-enabled customers, but the innovative use of sensors allow companies to behave in such an intelligent manner it makes customers’ jaws drop.

Competitive advantage: years ago, Red Lobster used sensors in the Gulf of Mexico to monitor changes in water temperature, which correlated with the price of shrimp and allowed the firm to maintain lower prices than its competitors.

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