Ordinary floors may soon get some brains. A German company named Future-Shape has developed SensFloor, a layer of textile sensors that monitors human movement and can be installed underneath almost any type of flooring. The product works by sending a small electrical charge through a conductive fabric containing integrated sensor plates (32 per square meter) and radio modules. When someone walks over a sensor, a small change in charge capacity triggers the system.
Future-Shape envisions a wide range of applications for its technology. Controlling automatic doors, for instance, "can be done more intelligently than it's done today," argues R&D director Axel Steinhage. "The door will only open if someone walks straight toward it," not if someone is simply walking by, because the system can determine direction of travel. In a home or hotel room, the technology could be used to turn on lights when you step out of bed, and to have them automatically adjust as you move through different rooms. In a hospital or nursing home, it could be set up to detect when a patient falls.
Future-Shape hopes to make the product available, with supporting software, in two to three years. Just be careful where you walk once it hits the market — because the technology is invisible once installed, you'll never know who, or what, might be monitoring your every move.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.