Making sense of sensors: what you don't know your phone knows about you

What do all of the sensors in your phone do, and what's coming in the near future?

STMicroelectronics is one of the companies leading the charge in sensor development. It's working on technology that combines readings from an accelerometer, magnetometer, pressure sensor and Wi-Fi scanner to accurately pinpoint your location indoors.

That means whether you're trying to find a bookshop in a shopping centre or a restaurant in a hotel, the tech can make life much easier when you can't get a GPS lock.

Never get lost in a shopping centre again

Samsung, meanwhile, is currently showing off a Home Innovation Space at Harrod's, featuring smart, Internet-enabled washing machines, fridges and other electrical goods.

Once your phone has the ability to work out which floor you're on, you might never have to press a light switch again, whether you're at home or at a hotel. What's more, your Internet-enabled fridge could suggest a meal based on the nutritional value of the food you've already eaten, as tracked by your phone.

Then there's your weekly trip to the gym — the MyoLink muscle sensors from Somaxis can detect how well your workout is going, while the Cardiio app is able to measure your heart rate through your iPhone's camera.

This tech is already in the early stages of development as of today, and it shouldn't take long before gym equipment can automatically adapt to your fitness levels without any input from you.

Cardio app
The Cardiio app can detect your heart rate through your iPhone's camera

Let's not forget gaming either — the Samsung Galaxy S4 can already tell when you're looking away from the screen, and once mobile cameras are smart enough to detect your mood, then the gameplay could adapt accordingly to make life easier or slow you down.

As 3D and stereo cameras become the norm, so gesture and facial recognition will improve.

Brave new worlds

A final look ahead from Emiliano Miluzzo: "What's exciting is that smartphones and tablets will turn into our personal assistants, ready to sense our surroundings and take actions on our behalf.

"To achieve this, new and advanced sensing capabilities will be always needed — a process that hardware miniaturisation will only accelerate. And it's fascinating to see how researchers and developers exercise their creativity to come up with unthinkable apps and ideas with the sensors available today.

"We measure this by the very large community participation in what it is known as smartphone sensing research."

Phone sensors offer portability backed up with computing power and the ability to report back from the remotest of locations. Whether it's monitoring your blood sugar levels or warning about an impending avalanche, nothing is beyond the realms of possibility when it comes to future innovations.

Smartphones have already revolutionised many aspects of our lives, and they're only just getting started.