The cellular phone, first popularized around two decades ago has undergone a metamorphosis that was unbelievable, even a decade ago. It is now more than just a phone that enables mobile connectivity and talking. It has become a camera, an organizer, a social media platform, an application provider and so much more. As a result, such a generation of cellular phones began to be called smart phones as contrasted with basic or feature phones. Each month, a new smart phone is announced which scales new dimensions in these features, as well as in terms of the visible display technologies and the embedded processing technologies. It is predicted that the smart phone would evolve into a personal assistant of sorts, and an integral part of one's personality.
This blog post proposes a different take on the smart phones. The smart phone is no longer a phone plus a few other things. Neither is it a micro-computer with speech supporting capabilities. The technologies deployed in the current smart phone designs have the potential to lead to generic and customized smart devices that can make human lives become smarter. The key to this transformational development would be the embedded smart technologies that have a very specific objective. The future generation would be powered and managed by Sensor Measurement and Response Technologies, with a well deserved acronym of SMART. All devices of the future would be Smart Devices.
Measure and Respond
The key to human life is measurement and response. The body, for example, has a way of measuring the hunger level and triggering the hunger satisfying behavior. Once food is accessed and ingested, it has also a way of measuring the satisfaction level and controlling the eating cycle. There are innumerable, in fact infinite, ways of measurement and response that happen in any living being, let alone the more evolved human being. The biological features and capabilities of the body, genetically given and experientially developed, control the sharpness of the measurement and response mechanism in individuals. This innate capability differentiates people, more particularly in trades such as driving, piloting, constructing, designing, fabricating and so on.
The measure and respond cycle essentially gets performed through the five basic sensory faculties of an individual, these being hearing, seeing, touching, tasting and smelling. All developments of nature and inventions of technology are pivoted on the five sensory aspects of human life. All aspects of market development and customer satisfaction are also pivoted on these five basic faculties. Even the qualitative emotional aspects are governed by the measurement and response cycle of human awareness. The hypothesis, therefore, is that the ability of an individual to have a fulfilling life can be substantially increased if a new generation of Smart Devices that can serve as the ultimate companions of human beings are developed.
Existing and Emerging Examples
The advent of electronics has revolutionized the measure and respond capabilities as well as the interface between the man and the machine on one hand and the man and the environment on the other. Take the example of automobile: the man-machine measurement and response interface remained confined to accelerator and brake or the overall driving controls. With the advent of electronics, the measure and respond mechanism has extended to a whole series of activities ranging from the micro-mixing of fuel in the engine to the electronic management of driving. Similarly many other industrial activities have benefited from the finer measure and respond technologies, from automated assembly and inspection to computational design and analytical instrumentation.
The development of robots is another fine example of electronics creating a mechanical mimic of human measurement and response system. Yet, it is only an example of a mimic, albeit faster, safer and sharper, of human movements. Robotics substitutes human endeavor and adds value to an industrial system rather than add value to the human being. Smart Devices, as envisaged in this blog post, would, on the other hand, would make the human being a better human being by virtue of aiding the measure and respond capabilities of the human being. A few examples of how Smart Devices can help enhance human life are considered below.
Vision is one of the most important aspects of measure and respond cycle. Vision is prone to deterioration with age. Medical science has responded to this by providing glasses that compensate for the vision loss and by correcting, through lasix and other surgeries, the mechanisms of eye. A Smart Vision device can make a whole difference to this paradigm by continuously measuring the power required for an individual with reference to the objects that are to be seen or read, thus obviating the need for fixed corrections. A dynamic management of vision where by the sensors set the tone for visual acuity can help the aged and disabled see and be aware of challenges and pathways in human mobility.
The ultimate Smart Vision Device would be an Artificial Eye. It would be path-breaking if the smart device can videograph on a continuous basis, size up the things it sees against the archived benchmarks and converts the interpretations into verbal advices through a speech assistant that is embedded in the device. The device should provide for adding new benchmarks by the caretakers. Such a device can be a boon for the blind and visually challenged people. From a lifestyle perspective, advancements in sensor technologies could help people see even beyond what the naked eye can see while from a healthcare perspective they could help targeted and precision surgery even more feasible than it is today. It remains to be seen whether the wearable computers like Google Glass would morph into artificial eyes of sorts.
A human being is in perpetual need of communication. The process of communication has been predominantly felt and experienced in terms of talking and hearing. The cell phone has been the medium of such modern communication. Even the so called smart phone has, however, probably seen only the beginning of a communication revolution. While it has, no doubt, brought about the era of anytime and anyplace communication between individuals what probably remains to be achieved is a more holistic communication between the man and the environment. The incorporation of the measure and respond cycle in the smart phone capabilities would lead to the new generation of such smart holistic communication devices.
Today's devices incorporate sensor recognition of gestures and choice of information through exercise of specific applications. Tomorrow's smart communication devices would help in communication with broader environment as a matter of continuous experience rather than as sporadic choice. The individual would set his or her expectations of the environment and his desired response, letting the smart device guide him live through the times. An example would be a device system that would have a base station at home, an operating station in office and a mobile station on person. These three device units would be in constant communication with each other to a set calendar of events and activities for the individual.
Smart devices, backed by the next generation of medical sensor and response, would be the next game changer for human life. Integrated with advancements in genetics and diagnostics, smart health devices would be a new generation of touch and diagnosis health care apparatus that could guide us to good health and responsible living; in fact, there are already some which measure calorie burn, heart rate and so on. Extending further, the recently introduced smart watches would evolve into pulse reading and blood pressure measuring instruments. Nanotechnology would help conduct several diagnostic tests that now require samples of blood in a simpler through cutaneous access. Together, there would offer potential to guide individuals, especially diabetic and hypertensive patients, to achieve more cautious and controlled living.
Smart devices, like the pacemakers which set right an irregular heart rhythm, can help provide stability to the aged. The ability to judge time and motion gets impaired with age. Smart sensors can, much like the driver-less cars under test, can put the aged in an error-proof autopilot mode. Depending on which faculty is relatively less or more impaired for an individual, smart devices can cover up for the more impaired one and translate the corrective action to reinforce the better one. Smart devices can alert the others in the system if the individuals are so impaired that they cannot benefit by themselves with the suggestions from the devices. In several ways, the smart health devices can act as a daily support to safe conduct of people.
There could be several other applications for smart devices. With enhancements in analytical technology, they can guide the restaurants and guests alike on the nutrition content of the food items. They can understand the moods of the individual owners and provide talk and music therapy sessions that can positively influence the psychological well-being of the individuals. They can interpret information from chosen applications and play real time alerts. For example, when natural calamities strike, rather than individuals seek alerts, the devices can beam out alerts, and advise on pathways, once the starting point and destination of a traveler are known.
In the field of education, smart devices can be encyclopedias on the go. They can also be creators of crosswords, puzzles and teasers that are customized and calibrated for the intelligence quotient of an individual based on testing, a priori, of an individual. With appropriate tests, they can also serve as providers of psychological tests of individuals as they grapple with new situations. As each smart device will be typically owned by an individual, the consistency or variability of the individually can be evaluated longitudinally by the device and feedback provided to the individual.
The real challenge in the Smart Device development as outlined above is the need to obviate the interface with the computer. While some of the functionalities mentioned above are getting established in devices, they would need to be networked to the computer for meaningful archival and trending. What would be transformational is a direct interface between the Smart Device and the individual. This would require development of Smart Chips for this kind of Smart Devices with several cores of very high storage and processing power each. Potentially, there would be the need for a Smart Bionic Chip that would communicate with the human brain, in interlock with the Smart Device. A decade into the future, all of these could be realities.
The thesis of the blog post has been that in contrast to robotics which mimics human movements and efforts with much better capabilities in some cases, the new Smart Device saga must emphasize value adding and reinforcing normal human endeavors, with a special focus on safety, efficiency and health. That way, life would be more purposeful and fulfilling. The key would be development of bionic chips that could work in harmony with human life. These would be a natural extension of human life, programmed to spontaneous and continuous reinforcement and improvement. The chips that measure and respond on behalf of the individual would multiply his or her safe, healthy and productive behaviors manifold, helping him or her age gracefully with surety.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on November 2, 2013