Top 10 Mobile Instrumentation and Sensor Enablers

One interesting approach to generating mobile innovations is to consider the myriad of built‑in mobile instrumentation and sensor capabilities that most smartphones now have such as accelerometer, GPS, video camera, RFID, NFC, audio recorder, biometrics, facial recognition, Wi‑Fi, camera and compass. By considering each of these technology enablers (and others), organizations can brainstorm to determine whether any of them could potentially drive a marketing, customer service or even a business model innovation. Let’s take a world tour of companies that have already harnessed these technologies for creating real business and customer value.

1. Accelerometer

An accelerometer is a feature built into most smartphones that can detect and measure the acceleration and deceleration of the device. Let’s imagine for a moment what service innovations or business model innovations that the accelerometer could trigger. Roadside assistance companies or auto manufacturers could offer a much higher level of service by building an app using the accelerometer (or GPS) to automatically detect accidents (i.e., the car was going 40 miles per hour but stopped completely within two seconds). This capability would be especially useful if the driver was unconscious and not able to make a phone call, rendering traditional roadside assistance services ineffectual. Now combine this capability with GPS and SMS and the app could then automatically notify emergency personnel as well as family members of the exact location of the vehicle – an entirely new service innovation is born.

2. Global Positioning System (GPS)

Any smartphone or other device with GPS capability turned on can be tracked globally. As a result, organizations can track the position of physical assets such as equipment and vehicles, goods in transit, employees, customers, family members, etc. Using GPS technology, Telus was able to introduce an entirely new service called Kid Find. This service innovation provides parents with the ability to track and locate their children in real time on an interactive map. Creating this new service required very little investment by Telus since the required infrastructure was already in place.[i]

Using GPS technology, specialized devices on automobiles can actually track things such as your speed, how many miles/kilometres you drive, what part of town you are driving in and when you are driving. Insurance companies such as Progressive Insurance have created a unique opt‑in auto insurance package for drivers willing to give up some of their privacy in order to get an insurance rate that could be up to 25 percent less than others. This enables Progressive to price its insurance policies to more closely match the risk that it’s taking – another powerful example of applying technology to enable a new service innovation.[ii]

Organizations are also using GPS to track employees in order to improve customer service levels. For example, by tracking the location of its 500,000 real estate agents, Redfin can determine which one is closest to a home that a customer wants to tour.

QR CODE GPS ENABLED FIRT QRWatch the Video: GPS-Enabled Service Innovation: The SixthSense roadside assistance app uses GPS to automatically detect an accident and call emergency personnel. It can also provide medical information to emergency personnel.[i] <> (Duration: two minutes)

QR CODE 2 GPS SAFETY RISKWatch the Video: GPS Strategy Risks: The improved accuracy of GPS tracking has promising potential for a wide variety of applications, but there is also the peril of looming security and privacy risks.[iv] <> (Duration: 16 minutes)

3. Video Camera

As discussed, an accelerometer or GPS could be used to detect an accident, but why wait for an accident to happen? A smartphone’s video camera can actually be used as an advanced collision warning system that could potentially avoid the accident in the first place. Now imagine an insurance company offering a reduced-rate insurance policy if it could track your driving habits and how closely you follow other cars.

QR CODE ION ROADWatch the Video: Video Service Innovation – iOnRoad: The iOnRoad Advanced Collision Warning System can help avoid accidents.[v] <> (Duration: two minutes)
QR CODE 3D techWatch the Video: 3D Smartphones: Dual cameras with twin stereoscopic lenses in some new smartphones can record 3D photos and 3D videos.[vi] <> (Duration: six minutes, skip to 2:22)

4. Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID)

RFIDRFID Strategies: Miniscule RFID chips emit a radio signal that can be read when they are within a few hundred feet of an RFID receiver. Theoretically an RFID tag could be placed on every product and replace barcodes, but this is unlikely to happen in the short term. More often they are used to track an entire pallet of goods as it works its way through the supply chain. Novel apps have already appeared since RFID tags can be used to track just about anything including vehicles, equipment, assets and employees.[viii]

Hospitals are already using RFID tags to manage assets and reduce theft by tracking equipment such as wheel chairs. Tracking infusion pumps for intravenous drips helps nurses find one when needed, eliminating the tendency to hoard one until the next time. Some hospitals are even using RFID tags on mothers and newborn babies to address two major problems – babies being given to the wrong mothers and hospital child abductions. An alarm actually sounds if someone tries to steal the baby.[ix]

Figure 1: Coca‑Cola Village Amusement Park RFID Wristbands


Coca‑Cola hosted a real‑life RFID event tied to Facebook in Israel. As teens engaged in activities like waterslides and sunbathing, they automatically updated their Facebook status by waiving an RFID wristband across strategically-located readers. The event was a successful branding endeavor with more than 35,000 Facebook updates each day. Furthermore, the number of friends seeing those updates was likely at least ten times greater than that.[xi]
QR RFIC FB InnovationWatch the Video: RFID/Facebook Innovation – Coca-Cola: RFID wristbands at the Coca‑Cola Village Amusement Park automatically generate Facebook likes.[xii] <> (Duration: one minute)
QR CODE FB RENAULT INNOVATIONWatch the Video: RFID/Facebook Innovation – Renault: At an auto show in Amsterdam, Renault enabled visitors to swipe RFID smartcards to automatically post a like on their Facebook page, providing it with social media exposure.[xiii] <> (Duration: two minutes)

5. Near Field Communications (NFC)
NFC enables tap ‘n go payments. A simple tap on an NFC reader can transfer funds from your NFC‑enabled card or smartphone to a vendor to make a purchase. NFC‑enabled cards are commonplace worldwide; the Octopus card in Hong Kong can be used for transit, convenience stores and many other things. In addition to tap ‘n go payments, NFC could potentially have several other uses such as loyalty or membership programs; ticketing; identification; time and attendance recording; physical access to buildings or rooms; and secure log in to your PC.[xv] In 2014, 220 million NFC‑enabled phones will be shipped, up 400 percent from four years earlier.[xvi] This opens the door to many more NFC applications and transactions in the future.
6. Audio

A smartphone’s ability to record audio could open up some interesting new services opportunities. A sleep apnea app for example could track sleep apnea episodes and the information could then be used to help doctors plan appropriate therapies.[1]

QR CODE AUDIO INNOVATIONWatch the Video: Audio Innovation: This sleep apnea app uses the phone’s audio recorder to determine how many sleep apnea episodes you have had per hour while sleeping.[xvii] <> (Duration: one minute)

Let’s consider how the audio input capability of most smartphones could create an entirely new business model. Imagine listening to music in your car or in a bar and you hear a song you like. Simply shazam it and within about five to six seconds, the Shazam app can identify the song and the artist. And since you may want to sing along, it can display the lyrics as well as play the accompanying music video. But how can this capability create an entirely new business model? By offering several related items for sale such as the song’s ringtone, a ticket to an upcoming concert by this artist, the downloadable music track and the entire album. The related commerce opportunities are numerous.

7. Biometrics

Scott’s Food & Pharmacy launched a Biometric Finger-Scan Payment Service enabling customer purchases with the touch of a finger. Customers set up an account to select the payment method as well as the loyalty card they want credited. “Finger scans are more secure than paper checks or debit cards because the account numbers are not exposed to anyone – not even to the store associate. Shoppers make faster, more private purchases while retailers see increased customer loyalty as a result of improved customer service,” as well as faster checkouts.[xviii]

car system

Figure 2: Automobile Fingerprint Biometric DevicesBiometric devices are also appearing in automobiles; a fingerprint scanner could control access to entering or starting the car.[xix]

8. Facial Recognition

Facedeals from Red Pepper is an opt‑in service that scans your face as you walk by participating retail stores, recognizes you and then accesses your Facebook account to analyze your likes. It then transmits personalized deals to your smartphone, specific to your interests. This has some obvious privacy concerns, but “a study from research group SAS Canada shows 46 percent of Canadians would be willing to reveal personal information if it meant access to personalized discounts and deals.”[xx]

QR CODE FACIAL RECOGNITIONWatch the Video: Facial Recognition/Facebook Innovation – Coca-Cola: For its Summer Love event, Coca‑Cola created facelook, a facial recognition app that could automatically recognize participants and post images to their Facebook wall. Tens of thousands participated, resulting in strong branding for Coca‑Cola.[xxi] <> (Duration: one minute)

Furthermore, the same type of capability used for facial recognition can also be use for any type of object recognition or document recognition. All that is required is an intelligent mobile app and a built-in camera that most smartphones have. Let’s explore how this capability might provide companies with a competitive advantage or an entirely new service offering. For example, U.S. Bank and Mitek are currently working on a mobile bill payment service and mobile app that can capture your account number, add a new payee and pay a bill (the exact amount owing) – simply by snapping a photo of a paper bill.[xxii] This appears to be a much simpler approach for paying a stack of bills received in the mail.

9. Gyroscope

Gyroscopes are built into many current smartphones and can sense speed, motion and the angle of the phone. This can enable a wide range of mobile apps such as driving games that can sense your steering motions, or augmented reality apps that can sense the direction of your motions to determine what content to display.

10. Proximity Sensor

A proximity sensor can sense when an object comes close to the phone and then take specific actions as a result. A simple example would be detecting that a person has brought their smartphone up to their ear. This can save power by automatically deactivating the touch screen and display. Another example would be detecting when a person lifts the phone to their ear after reading a text message – this could automatically place a phone call to that person. In the future, the proximity sensor could detect when you lift the phone to your ear after reading a mobile ad and automatically call that company.

[1] Sleep apnea is a condition whereby people’s airways frequently close while they are sleeping, briefly stopping them from breathing.

[i] “Welcome to TELUS Mobility.” TELUS. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[ii] Holly LaFon. “GPS Tracker May Help Lower Your Car Insurance.” NBCDFW.COM. July 20, 2009. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[iii] “SixthSense Accident Detection App.” YouTube. Uploaded by ViaCellSA on May 17, 2012. Accessed November 4, 2012. or

[iv] “Todd Humphreys: How to fool a GPS.” TEDx Austin. Posted July 2012. Accessed December 24, 2012. or

[v] “iOnRoad AR collision warning.” YouTube. Uploaded by PicitupCorp on July 28, 2012. Accessed November 4, 2012. or

[vi] “3D Technology – TVs, Tablets, Phones, Camcorders, Gaming Devices, and more.” YouTube. Uploaded by toptenreviews on August 17, 2011. Accessed November 4, 2012. or

[vii] Blognews. “Six handset makers back Isis NFC payment.” RFID News. September 30, 2011. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[viii] “Frequently Asked Questions.” RFID Journal. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[ix] Jerome R. Corsi. “HOSPITALS TAGGING BABIES WITH ELECTRONIC CHIPS.” WND. January 15, 2008. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[x] Patrice Hall. “What I’m into this week: Facebook meets RFID.“ Real Art USA. December 6, 2010. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[xi] Seinn Schildt. “Brands Linking RFID to Social Media: Top 3 Examples.” The Trend Watch. September 9, 2010. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[xii] “Facebook RFID at Coca Cola Village! SHOCKING!” YouTube. Uploaded by beecoz3001 on August 24, 2010. Accessed November 4, 2012. or

[xiii] “Renault connects Facebook to the AutoRAI with RFID.“ YouTube. Uploaded by RenaultNL on April 14, 2011. Accessed November 4, 2012. or

[xiv] “Electronic Health Records TV AD – Emergency room.wmv.” YouTube. Uploaded by MrStevieP12 on October 13, 2010. Accessed November 4, 2012. or

[xv] “1 Million NFC Android Handsets Sold In France, But They Have Little Use.” Game & Movie. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[xvi] “220.1M NFC-Enabled Phones Supporting Mobile Payments to Be Shipped in 2014, Up 418% from 2010.” Unibul. December 22, 2010. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[xvii] “Sleep Apnea Demonstration.” YouTube. Uploaded by adityak on April 1, 2012. Accessed November 4, 2012. or

[xviii] “Scott’s Food & Pharmacy, Crook’s Marketplace Test Biometric Payment.” Progressive Grocer. October 26, 2006. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[xix] “Your iPhone or iPod could now make you a DJ instantly.” Newest Technology Gadgets. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[xx] Jordana Divon. “Facedeals software scans your face, offers personalized deals via phone as you shop.” Shine On. August 16, 2012. Accessed November 4, 2012.

[xxi] “Coca-Cola Israel, Summer Love FaceLook.” YouTube. Uploaded by EdologicIL on July 24, 2011. Accessed November 4, 2012. or

[xxii] Chantal Tode. “How banks will continue to innovate in mobile next year.” Mobile Commerce Daily. December 27, 2012. Accessed February 1, 2013. .


One thought on “Top 10 Mobile Instrumentation and Sensor Enablers

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