win8_sensor

While most PC users are probably familiar with the concept of hardware peripherals based on technologies such as USB, there's a new generation of hardware coming to tomorrow's Windows-based devices that borrows some ideas from the smartphone world. Called sensors, these hardware components will help Windows 8 devices interact in exciting new ways with the outside world, and today Microsoft provided a hint about how Windows 8 combines some sensor data into a cohesive single interface.

"The ability to react to changes in ambient light, motion, human proximity, and location are becoming common and essential elements of the computing experience," Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky writes in the introduction to a Building Windows 8 blog post. "Even something simple—like an ambient light sensor to adjust display brightness in a room with changing light—is potentially a basic scenario for desktop PCs. Of course, we also want to make sure you have full control over the use of these peripherals, since we know that different sensors leave open opportunities for risk or abuse that some folks might not be comfortable with."

Leaving aside the numerous charts and graphs, the post discusses the following sensors which will be supported in an integrated fashion by Windows 8:

Ambient light sensor. Used to supply automatic display brightness control, or what Microsoft calls "adaptive brightness."

Accelerometer. Used to automatically rotate the screen when the user physically rotates the device, an accelerometer is a device that can be used to measure the force due to gravity, and the motion of the device itself. Windows 8 supports a 3D accelerometer, which measures acceleration on three axes.

Magnetometer. A sensor that measures magnetic field strengths, this is used in combination with an accelerometer to provide compass capabilities. Windows 8 supports a 3D magnetometer, which measures magnetic field strengths on 3 axes.

Gyro. Measures angular speed, typically along 3 axes. Typically used in games. Windows 8 supports a 3D gyro, and Microsoft utilizes the accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyro together in a so-called "sensor fusion" to create a combined "9-axis sensor fusion" system.

"By integrating a sensor fusion solution, Windows 8 provides a complete solution for the full range of applications," Gavin Gear writes in the post. "Sensor fusion in Windows solves the problems of jittery movement and jerky transitions, reduces data integrity issues, and provides data that allows a seamless representation of full device motion in 3D space (without any awkward transitions)."

There's a lot more in the original post--isn't there always--so be sure to read that. And of course Windows 8 supports other sensors too, which I'm sure Microsoft will document at some later date.