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Context is King, says Sensor Platforms exec

Posted: 23 Nov 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Context? sensors? mobile devices? smart phones?

In a recent interview with EE Times, executive vice president of Sensor Platforms Ian Chen stated that context is king as the world, increasingly stitched together by sensors, matures. Chen has been identified by EE Times as one of the 40 key technologists to watch in the coming years.

Chen is part of a team that has transformed Sensor Platforms from a semiconductor company into a software company, one that aims to bring a lot of intelligence to your phone. In the spring of 2012, Sensor Platforms rolled out a library of software algorithms and middleware designed to interpret users' contexts and intents by using data from multiple sensors in mobile devices.

Ian Chen

Ian Chen

"You find all these apps that will help you find where you parked your car as long as you have the presence of mind to write down where you left it," Chen says. "If I have that much presence of mind, I don't really need the phone, do it? Why can't phone figure out that you're now walking and there you parked your car right there? That's what we mean by user context."

"If you're like a typical office worker, you only use sensors 6 per cent of your waking hours. We think the other 94 per cent have some value as well. Sensors should really be working for you", added Chen.

"We came to the conclusion that if sensors are going to be everywhere, then it comes to a point where we really need to get people togetherrocket scientists talking to neuroscientists about what is the signal we really want to get, like muscle tension that tells the device you're holding the phone out in front of you."

Chen sees the "phone" as we know it today likely remaining the vital human-digital interface it's been in the early days of the smart phone's existence.

"Even Star Trek has a communicator badge. That's still a phone!" Chen said. "I think it's probably still going to be a human-to digital device. The only other device is an implant and I'm not sure I like that too much."

The screen
Looking forward, what could change is the smart phone's current main feature and evolutionary drawback, the screen. Right now, the screen dictates the device design, physically and functionally. But at some point in the future, screen functionality could be distributed to, for instance, your car, your home, a random screen in a hallway or office. In that case the form factor of the "communicator" can change radically. It could even be a belt buckle, Chen offered.

Chen, who holds 10 patents, emerged from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with BS and MS degrees in engineering and an MBA. In the span of his quarter-century in the industry, he's worked at semiconductor companies such as Texas Instruments, Cypress Semiconductor and National Semiconductor.

He cites two former TI colleagues, Rich Templeton (now TI CEO) and John Scarisbrick (now retired) as men who influenced him. Templeton showed him the value of focus. As for Scarisbrick, "He encouraged me to think about things like merchandising, even though we're in the high tech business. Just because we're in high tech, we can't be lazy and not think about conventional marketing and business strategy."

If the past 40 years were a whirlwind of technological innovation, the next 40 likely will be a period of even more rapid, intense achievement, Chen said.

"We are now starting to become smarter and smarter in using computing as a tool in becoming more creative. A lot of the things we're talking about in algorithms, we're using machine learning, for example, to help us. We don't have a Moore's Law but a positive feedback loop. As we build smarter tools, they make us smarter," he says.

- Brian Fuller
??EE Times

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