Sensor Sunday: Microsoft’s FlexSense Project, High Speed Robotic Vision, Sensing Cities and World-Saving Sensor Applications

Every week, we’re going to look at some of the biggest news in sensors, and related fields, covering all areas from the DIY to the industrial and scientific. As the world becomes more connected, we’re surrounded by more and more sensing technology, so let’s look at how people are putting them to work.

Microsoft New Interactive Sheet Offers A Whole New Dimension of Digital Input

The big news this week was around Microsoft’s FlexSense project, a thin, transparent sheet embedded with 16 piezo-electric sensors that reconstructs complex deformations without any external sensing. The hope is to add a new dimension to computer input, which could allow users to peel back layers of an image, flip and share between applications, employ traditional keyframe animation techniques and much more. It seems the most tedious piece of the project was building the machine-learning algorithms to reconstruct the sheet digitally. The final product is quite astounding, especially when seen in action:

(Microsoft Research via TechCrunch)

A Simple Solution to Stop Elephant Poaching

On the other end of the spectrum, 19-year-old Mercy Sigey and her classmates have a DIY approach to stop poaching. She’s using motion sensors, capable of detecting motion in a 9-meter radius, to detect poachers entering a Kenyan animal reserve and alert park officials. The project is supported by Innovate Kenya, which empowers Kenyan Youth to solve pressing challenges in their communities. This simple, cost-effective solution could be easily implemented at other reserves once it is slightly more refined to provide long-term monitoring.

(via TakePart)

Using Surfers to Look at Climate Change

Boardformulas SmartPhin

Benjamin Thompson also aims to help the planet by employing surfers to collect data on ocean acidification caused by climate change. One of the challenges for scientists doing climate change research is collecting data along the turbulent near-shore environments. Thompson has proposed putting bluetooth enabled pH sensors into the fins of surfboards, which would send the readings to the surfers’ smartphone, which would subsequently upload the data to servers where researchers can take a look at it. He’s created a SmartPhin prototype and is working with fin manufacturer Futures to further implement the technology.

While data collection is one of the most common uses of sensors, the way Benjamin Thompson has engaged the most ocean-dedicated group of people to help do research is incredibly innovative.

(via TakePart)

Sensors for High-Speed Maneuvers In Drones

Students at the University of Zurich have developed dynamic vision sensors that will give quadcopters and AR drones quicker positioning data, allowing them to make accurate high speed maneuvers. The sensor sends high frequency data on a per-pixel basis. The key is that data is only transmitted if the pixel changes. They’ve got the temporal resolution down to the microsecond, which practically eliminates latency and motion blur, seen in traditional cameras. The sensors have been effective in 96% of tests tracking a quadcopter flipping at 1200 degrees per second.

(Robots and Perception Group via IEEE)

Sense City

Sense City

Three maps of Washington, DC

Tom MacWright began an exploration of urban sensors used in Washington, DC to monitor traffic, bicycles and gunshots. This article offers a more analytical look at the uses of sensors than what’s been mentioned so far today. He provides some interesting thoughts on the mixed consequences of sensor arrays in cities, from security to identity.

That’s all for this week; come back next Sunday for more updates on what the world is doing with sensors and beyond.

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Math lover. Engineering communicator. Mad-lib enthusiast. Total nerd.

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