Decoding Design

IBM patent sees sensors as high-tech floor boards

Posting in Cities

IBM's newly issued multi-touch floor covering technology could give a new layer of smarts to smart buildings, and smart cities.

Sensors are already all around us. Someday they might be embedded under foot, as well, if a patent granted last month to IBM becomes commercialized.

A team of inventors from across the country filed the patent application, for "securing premises using surface-based computing technology," in 2009. According to the patent abstract, the technology would consist of "electronic multi-touch floor covering" that could identify "a shape of an object" that comes in contact with the flooring. By learning the normal configuration and weight of objects that come in contact with the floor regularly, the system could learn what represents a normal event and what would constitute an abnormality.  Based on the object detected and the parameters set, the system could trigger actions based on events the sensors detect.

Medical and security applications for this concept abound. By determining that a resident of a home, for example, has fallen to the floor based on the weight imprint and configuration of the individual, the system could access the individual's vital signs and automatically call for medical help. As baby boomers age and look for ways to live independently, a system like this could be extremely appealing to both the seniors and their children and other family members who worry about their well-being.

The utility of such a system for security systems is also obvious and likely appealing has security system vendors chomping at the bit. But one could also imagine more mundane applications, such as using the sensors to ascertain when a public space has exceeded safe occupancy levels, based on fire codes. Business owners or municipalities could use this technology to analyze traffic flowing through a store or just along a popular sidewalk.

Cooking the system into the building process would allow a designer to link the sensors into multiple building systems and applications, as well. Today, lighting systems based on motion sensors, for example, can trigger lights to turn down even when a room is occupied but the occupants are still. By conferring with the multi-touch floor sensors, the lighting (or heat, or AC, for that matter) control system could determine whether a room is occupied or not.

So, smart floors could be a tool for building smarter buildings, smarter cities and other various "smarter" visions that Big Blue is often touting.

Via: medGadget

Image: IBM

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure