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Microsoft prepares Windows 10 for panoply of sensors

Agam Shah | March 26, 2015
Windows 10 devices in the future could be measuring temperature, environmental pressure and carbon dioxide levels, as Microsoft provides an interface to support a wide range of sensors.

Windows 10 devices in the future could be measuring temperature, environmental pressure and carbon dioxide levels, as Microsoft provides an interface to support a wide range of sensors.

Microsoft is building a unified sensor interface and universal driver for Windows 10 that will support a slew of environmental, biometric, proximity, health and motion sensors, the company said last week at the WinHEC trade show in Shenzhen. Microsoft is also providing the building blocks for Windows 10 to support sensors that haven't yet been released.

With support for more sensors, Microsoft hopes to bring "new functionality" to PCs, smartphones, tablets, gadgets and electronics running Windows 10, according to a slide from a presentation.

Microsoft is putting Windows 10 — which is due for release later this year — in PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart devices, wearables, gadgets and Internet of things devices. The company has also shown the future-looking HoloLens holographic headset working with Windows 10; together, the OS and the headset could act as a launchpad for new sensor applications.

Device makers could add barometer, pollution, ultraviolet, temperature, altitude and other sensors to Windows 10 devices. Also through the drivers, motion detection sensors will be able to track activities such as the number of steps users take in a day, and exchange data easily with other Windows 10 devices. The motion detection sensors will also take into account where devices are — on pockets, in hand or in bag — to ensure accurate measurements.

Microsoft is also using sensors to improve the way users interact with Windows 10 devices.

For example, a major attraction of Windows 10 is its ability to automatically switch between tablet and PC modes, which is made possible by sensors in hinges that detect the position of a laptop. Through a feature called Windows Hello, Microsoft is also using sensors to bring biometric authentication to Windows 10 PCs and tablets.

Windows 10 is friendlier to sensors than predecessor operating systems, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard officials said at a press gathering last month.

But sensors need to be identified and supported by the OS, much like other hardware components. The universal driver is designed to let device makers could plug a variety of sensors into Windows 10 devices and not worry about driver development. Microsoft will also provide a separate development kit for those who want to develop independent sensor drivers to expand the functionality of hardware.

Sensors are ubiquitous across devices, and a unified driver interface could aid Microsoft's effort to put Windows 10 in more gadgets, appliances and other data-collecting instruments, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

Supporting more sensors in Windows 10 is also a key part of Microsoft's plans to expand into the Internet of Things market, which revolves around data-collecting instruments feeding telemetry to Microsoft's Azure cloud service, McGregor said.

 

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