Seven profitable opportunities for sensors that could reshape our world

alderaban nao robot sensorsSoon, there will be more sensors in the world than all the phones and computers combined. But there’s a problem: Many of the people who know sensors aren’t entrepreneurial (they’re engineers), and most of the people who are entrepreneurial haven’t yet realized the huge extent to which sensors will change the world.

Translation: This may be your big opportunity.

To illustrate what sensors can do, Michael Hinshaw and I included this intentionally very long paragraph in our recent book:

Today, digital sensors can:

  • monitor your tire pressure and avoid dangerous blowouts;
  • analyze the gait of elderly citizens and warn of falls before they occur;
  • follow the gaze of shoppers and identify which products they examine – but don’t buy – in a store;
  • monitor which pages readers of a magazine read or skip;
  • float in the air over a factory and independently monitor the plant’s emissions;
  • detect impacts in the helmet of an athlete and make it impossible for them to hide potential serious blows to their brains;
  • reveal when a dishwasher, refrigerator, computer, bridge, or dam is about to fail;
  • trigger a different promotion as a new customer walks by a message board;
  • analyze the duration and quality of your sleep;
  • warn drivers that they are about to fall asleep;
  • prevent intoxicated drivers from operating a motor vehicle;
  • warn a person before he or she has a heart attack;
  • detect wasted energy in both homes and commercial buildings;
  • warn a parent or boss when anger is creeping into their voice, to help prevent them from saying or doing things they will later regret;
  • tell waiting customers how far away the pizza delivery guy is from their house;
  • analyze the movements of employees through a factory to detect wasted time and efforts;
  • trigger product demonstrations or interactive manuals when a customer picks up or examines a product;
  • congratulate an athlete when she swings a tennis racquet properly or achieves an efficient stride while running. 

 The big question is: What will you do with them tomorrow? Here are seven ways you can personally profit from sensors:

1.) Add sensors to any dumb object, and give it the ability to act intelligently. Without a sensor, when the water filter in your refrigerator gets too old, you keep using it anyway. Add a sensor, and your refrigerator tells you to stop using it. Find something that bugs people with its stupidity, and make it smart.

2.) Learn to program a robot. Robots are moving collections of sensors, and some of the wisest folks among us are learning how to program the software that controls robots. This video from Aldebaran highlights the talents of an incredibly versatile robot with facial- and speech-recognition capabilities.

electricfoxy move wearable sensor clothing3.) Help people improve their athletic performance with sensors. The Move project at ElectricFoxy is studying ways to do this, and over at Sense of the Future we have identified over 200 health and fitness apps that use sensors.

4.) Make computers – and everything else – simpler to use. One way might be by incorporating gestural interfaces, like what Prime Sense is developing. We are getting very close to the day when our technology becomes so advanced that it disappears. Personally, I can’t wait to throw away all our remote controls.

5.) Build a new business around sensors. My friend likes to windsurf, so he uses a sensor on the buoy outside his favorite harbor to show him when the winds top 20 mph. He does this via a service called iWindsurf, which is basically a collection of sensors placed along the coastline. Where could you place sensors to deliver a valuable new service to a group of people with a strong interest? For example, I’d pay $5 to get a video of my son scoring a soccer goal, so someone might want to mount sensors and a camera in the crossbar of soccer goals and sell the videos to parents.

6.) Increase safety with sensors. Without a sensor, your car will run over the tricycle your son left behind your real wheel. With a sensor, your car will warn you not to back up. How can you use sensors to make the world safer, or at least your corner of it?

emotiv neuroheadset brain control sensors7.) Use your brain (better). Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) are sensors for your brain. Right now they are mainly used in research labs, but a few companies like Emotiv have headsets you can buy today, and more are on the way. There are lots of overblown claims what these devices can do — most still require dorky, greasy caps — but anything that helps train your brain is a good thing.

I’ve just scratched the surface. For the next few days, imagine that everywhere you go everything has a sensor inside it. What would you want it to tell you, and when? Even better, what entrepreneurial opportunity can you create? There are millions of possibilities.

Bruce Kasanoff is a speaker, author and innovation strategist who tracks sensor-driven innovation at Sense of the Future. Kasanoff and co-author Michael Hinshaw teamed up to explore more of the opportunities unearthed by sensors in Smart Customers, Stupid Companies.

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