Sensors: Extending the Reach of Human Perception
As sensors become ever smaller, they will be absorbed into the world around us (and inside us), allowing everything to be measured and manipulated. And that will make them a powerful force in the future of business and society.
Sensors have already shifted some disease treatments to proactive, real-time monitoring to treat symptoms before they become life threatening. Similarly, customers will no longer accept products that break down; they will demand proactive repair or replacement.
Dramatic changes in sensor technology are driving these shifts.
As sensors become smaller, they can be self-sustaining, enabling them to be used just about anywhere. Prototype sensors grab energy from radio waves in the air or from vibrations as minor as touching a table with your fingers.
Sensors will help us experience a reality well beyond that defined by our evolution, such as using echolocation like bats.
Sensors could also give us entirely new abilities that are not in nature, such as extrasensory perception, or let us swap in ultraviolet, infrared, and night vision to meet our individual needs at any given time.
Beyond merely sensing their surroundings, sensors are actively affecting them. An experimental sensor is small enough to be swallowed but so powerful that it not only monitors fat levels in obese patients but also automatically releases medication that gives patients a sense of fullness and dissuades them from eating.
Sensors will generate so much data that computing power will move to the edge to manage the load. Autonomous vehicles already carry their own small data centers and process about 1 GB of data per second.
Eventually, sensors will become so small that they can be implanted at the cellular level, such as inside brain cells to control movement of a prosthetic arm. Already, there is a compound that can be painted on almost any surface and will harden into a sensor that can function in the tightest, dirtiest, hottest places.
New measures of market success
In a world that senses everyone and everything all the time, we will need new ways of thinking about how to succeed in the market. The opportunities for differentiation will become increasingly fine-grained. The way we think of competitive advantage will change. It will be a new era of real-time business.