New motion tech makes mobile devices far more self-aware

BARCELONA—With wearable technology surging in popularity, the need for devices to know what their owner’s body is doing is more important than ever.

New mobile devices from phones to wearable sports devices are becoming aware of where you are, what you’re doing, and how fast and hard you’re doing it.

The first generation of these devices could detect things like how many steps you are taking, but not whether you are walking uphill or downhill. They couldn’t place you on a map to show where you are walking.

An LG TV remote control uses motion control to select icons and scroll through menus on the screen.

One company here, Sunnyvale, California-based chip maker Invensense, puts an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a compass together in one chip, then wraps it all up in its own home baked firmware and a set of algorithms that provide the script for everything on the chip to work together properly.

And they’re good at it. Invensense is in 70 percent of the Android handsets in the world today. That’s mainly because those Android handsets rely on the Invensense technology that lets gamers control the action of the game by moving the device in various directions.

The combination of the accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope lets users make very smooth, cohesive movements within the game. It also makes the game feel extremely sensitive and responsive to user movements.

But the need for precise motion detection has moved well beyond gaming. For instance, a phone containing the chip can tell if the person carrying it is walking, biking, swimming, or skiing. Each of these activities has a unique motion profile that the Invensense chip can recognize.

The Invensense technology can also be used to train a device to recognize various gestures on a touchscreen. For example, you could train a phone with Invensense inside to launch a calendar app when you make a “C” shape on your touchscreen.

The Black and Decker Gyrodriver screw gun senses the user's hand motions for control.

The Invensense chip is finding its way into devices you wouldn’t think would need user motion detection. These include a Black and Decker screw gun that screws or unscrews faster or slower based on the clockwise or counterclockwise movements of the users hand. A pair of ski goggles can detect the speed and incline of a skier and slope. A TV remote control allows the user to point, click, and scroll on the TV. And so on.

This type of motion detection, which is just getting started, is yet another trend we're seeing here at Mobile World Congress. It will likely become commonplace in mobile tech in the coming years.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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