A new iPhone app from insurance giant State Farm uses the device's accelerometers and other sensors to work out how well you're driving. Perfect timing, as it's just emerged that Apple is the world's second-biggest buyer of these sorts of tiny sensors.
The Driver Feedback app does pretty much what it says on the label—it feeds back to drivers an assessment of their driving, garnered by an analysis of the accelerometer, gyroscope, and probably digital compass, too, based on records made in the app while you drive. Specifically, the app assesses how you accelerate (aggressively, smoothly, and so on), how you brake (too fast, frequently, perhaps too late), and how sharply you take corners.
Having made its invisible measurements, and run through its algorithm to work out how well or badly you've done on its key metrics, the app then reports to you your score, rated out of 100. You can even share it with people, if you're particularly proud.
The app sounds clever, but has already courted a little controversey—not least because of its own ad, which seems to be hinting that overprotective parents could make their kids run the app while driving so they can work out how safe they are. Will groundings, car-privilege denials, and worse happen if you don't score 90? And what defines a "90," anyway? But in itself the app is a little harmless fun. A lot scarier is the thought that some day an overzealous police force may push a government to make running apps like this compulsory, but that's just speculative.
What is perhaps more interesting than the app itself is the tiny semiconductor sensors that make this possible. They are easily overlooked by the consumer, yet without them, the iPhone wouldn't have half its powers—and the motion-sensing Wii wouldn't have been possible. They're called MEMS, and they were developed for a number of reasons, including for airbag sensors in cars. Now it's emerged that Apple has become the second-biggest purchaser of MEMS devices in the world, increasing its buy by 117% to $195 million in 2010, pushing Apple ahead of Nintendo itself.
Apple's purchase history in this tech domain is a perfect reflection of the rise of iOS. The only firm spending more on MEMS than Apple is Samsung—and though its spending had been sliding for several years, it spiked dramatically in 2010...hardly surprising since, as we've hinted, Samsung's attempt to combat Apple relies heavily on copying what Apple does.
[Image via Flickr user emdot]
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