Sense The Excitement

Google Sky Map

Google Sky Map

For a long time, I was a bit of a Luddite when it came to smartphone technology. I spend so much time around computers, I didn’t really see the need for another one in my pocket. But when I finally got one, I realized that smartphones are, in fact, so much more than the average computer. It’s not the portability of the device – yes, you can take it everywhere all the time – but what’s truly amazing is that it knows. It knows where you took it, it can see, hear, sense its location, position and acceleration.

I can get directions to anywhere from here. I can have it listen to a song and tell me who sings it. I can point it at a star in the sky and learn the name. On the other hand, my significantly more powerful traditional computer can’t remember my home address for directions, even though it never goes anywhere!

It Knows!

The magic, of course, is all in the sensors. My LG Optimus V, a fairly low-end Android smartphone, has a GPS sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, camera and microphone. It’s this varied collection of sensors that makes a smartphone such a technological leap forward. And it is just the beginning. With new devices that sense your activity levels, health, climate, the possibilities are endless.

My [..] fairly low-end Android smartphone has a GPS sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, camera and microphone. It’s this varied collection of sensors that makes a smartphone such a technological leap forward.

The FitBit

The FitBit

The Fitbit device uses sensors to report your daily levels of activity so you can limit sedentary behaviour and increase activity during the day. It can even monitor your sleep patterns at night. LumoBack is a newly funded Kickstarter project that senses your posture and delivers a gentle vibration when you slouch – a virtual “Sit up straight!” from Mom.

Previously, I mentioned Twine, a sensor module you can use for a variety of applications in the home. Similarly, Node is a powerhouse version of the same idea with modules for sensing magnetism, altitude, barometric pressure, humidity etc.

Txting Sheep!

Txting Sheep!

I could go on, but I’ll leave you with the most entertaining one I’ve seen of late. Swiss scientists have been developing a collar that will allow sheep to cry wolf all by themselves. A heart rate monitor on the collar detects a sudden rise in the heart rate of the sheep, signalling likely danger, such as a wolf. The collar can then send a text message directly to the shepherd.

“OMG, Wolf!”

Which sensor-based devices do you find exciting?
Do you have any you’d recommend?

The front page image for this article is by Flickr user amcunningham72

Make Your Laundry Tweet You When It’s Done

Laundry Day (Image by Erik J. Gustafson)

Laundry Day (Image by Erik J. Gustafson)

For ages, I’ve wanted to create an Arduino project that will sit in my laundry room (shared in a small complex) and monitor whether the machines are being used or not, so we don’t have to keep checking. I figured it could talk to my WiFi and I’d put up a site that the whole apartment complex could use.

I’ll admit, this is supreme laziness on my part because we literally share a wall with this laundry room. It takes oh, about 30 seconds to walk over and peek in. However, as someone once said, “If necessity is the mother of invention, then laziness must be its father.” Plus, it just seemed like a good, straightforward project to learn more about Arduino, the DIY microcontroller hardware kit. So, I got as far as taking an Arduino workshop, and then life took over – the project got relegated to the backburner. But now, a kickstarter project called Twine has beat me to the punch (and bank) by creating a cool new product for just this sort of scenario!

Enter Twine!

Twine is a 2.5 inch square of plastic that has WiFi, temperature and vibration sensors and expansion capability for other sensors. It talks to a web application called Spool that allows you to “program” the Twine with simple rules, and monitor it from anywhere.

 

The rules are built using an array of available conditions and actions. If you’ve ever programmed rules for your email, this looks pretty similar. Something like ‘WHEN moisture sensor gets wet, THEN tweet me!’

Screenshot of Spool

Screenshot of Spool

Your Very Own Internet Of Things

The Twine website actually mentions the laundry scenario so they clearly have my needs in mind.  Out of the box, it can sense temperature, vibration and orientation. With expansion, it can do more, so for e.g. you could also get notified when your basement floods. What’s especially great about this product is the versatility and simplicity of the solution. You buy one product but it has multiple possibilities – Today you can use it to monitor your laundry, next week it could babysit your neglected herb garden. Buy a couple and you have your very own Internet of Things, how neat is that?

Got any cool ideas for ways to use Twine? Let me know in the comments!