Sensors and Animals

I still remember my early days in the Navy, when accelerometers were relatively large and most definitely expensive. They also weren’t all that reliable at times. (An accelerometer measures the amount of acceleration in a specific direction.) However, they were necessary equipment components because they helped ensure that any measurements compensated for the ship’s yaw, pitch, and roll. In fact, accelerometers continue to have a high visibility role in performing this task as part of Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) used in all sorts of equipment. Fortunately, modern accelerometers are extremely reliable, quite small, and cheap.

You probably have several accelerometers on your person. For example, they’re used to change the orientation of the picture produced by your smartphone. In fact, accelerometers are one of the most common sensors in use today because they provide much needed information about the manner in which the environment is changing for a particular technology. There are all sorts of ways in which you could use accelerometers to determine how an object is interacting with the real world.

Using accelerometers with animals has gone on for a long time now. In fact, they’re used so often that there is an actual name for the practice, animal biotelemetry. Most uses for animal biotelemetry affect wild animals in some way, but you can find uses for domesticated animals as well. I recently read about a new use for accelerometers in working with animals, Moove it! Tracking the common cow. The title would have you believe the accelerometers are used to monitor cow movement, which is partly true, but the purpose is to determine when the best time is to breed the cow so that she produces offspring at the most efficient time for everyone (including herself).

The article points out that sensors are often used in ways that weren’t envisioned by their creator. In this case, the accelerometer is actually used for monitoring, rather than measuring direction. I look for continued new uses for sensors to come to light. These uses will help us overcome many of the issues that people face today in interacting with their environment. Let me know your thoughts about how accelerometers and other sensors might be used to track, monitor, and otherwise help both people and animals to lead better lives at


Extending the Horizons of Computer Technology

OK, I’ll admit it—at one time I was a hardware guy. I still enjoy working with hardware from time-to-time and it’s my love of hardware that helps me see the almost infinite possibilities for extending computer technology to do all sorts of things that we can’t even envision right now. The fact that computers are simply devices for performing calculations really, really fast doesn’t actually matter. The sources of data input do matter, however. As computer technology has progressed, the number of sensor sources available to perform data input have soared. It’s the reason I recently wrote an article entitled, Tools to Help You Write Apps That Use Sensors.

The sensors you can connect to a computer today can do just about any task imaginable. You can detect everything from solar flares to microscopic animals. Sensors can hear specific sounds (such as breaking glass) and detect ranges of light that humans can’t even see. You can rely on sensors to monitor temperature extremes or the amount of liquid flowing in a pipe. In short, if you need to determine when a particular real world event has occurred, there is probably a sensor to do the job for you.

Unfortunately, working with sensors can also be difficult. You don’t just simply plug a sensor into your computer and see it work. The computer needs drivers and other software to interact with the sensor and interpret the data they provide. Given that most developer have better things to do with their time than write arcane driver code, obtaining the right tool for the job is absolutely essential. My article points out some tricks of the trade for making sensors a lot easier to deal with so that you can focus on writing applications that dazzle users, rather than write drivers they’ll never see.

As computer technology advances, the inputs and outputs that computers can handle will continue to increase. Sensors provide inputs, but the outputs will become quite interesting in the future as well. For example, sensors in your smartphone could detect that you’re having a heart attack and automatically call for help. For that matter, the smartphone might even be programmed to help in some significant way. It’s hard to know precisely how technology will change in the future because it has changed so much in just the last few years.

What sorts of sensors have you seen at work in today’s world? Do you commonly write applications that use uncommon sensor capabilities? Let me know about your user of sensors at I’d really be interested to know how many people are interested in these sorts of technologies so that I know whether you’d like to see future blog posts on the topic.