Gravio Blog
February 8, 2023

What are Software Sensors?

As technology advances, there is an increase in the number of organizations using computer vision systems to detect objects and analyze video feeds. Software sensors are specific types of computer vision systems that are trained to detect events, objects or states from an image or video feed. This post explores the potentials, concerns and considerations of having such a system.
What are Software Sensors?

Introduction

Computer Vision is a rapidly advancing technology that has become increasingly important in today's world. It refers to the ability of a computer to understand and interpret visual information supported by machine learning and AI. Computer vision applications can include analyzing images and videos to identify objects, faces, and even emotions.

A software sensor is a specific type of computer vision system that is trained to detect events, objects or states from a picture or video. It uses the data gathered from the image to control various devices or trigger software processes via API. A software sensor is treated like a traditional hardware sensor, except that it generates the data via a software process rather than via a purpose built hardware device. Computer Vision software sensor technology can be used to automate many tasks that would otherwise need to be done by humans.

Why are software sensors useful?

One of the key benefits of a software sensor is that it can be tailored to gather visually detectable data from the physical world without changing the hardware. This can make a computer vision based system much more flexible, scaleable and applicable in wider circumstances. The information gathered from such a software sensor based system can then be used to control various devices, such as turning on lights, adjusting the temperature in a room, switching off unused appliances, or trigger APIs to control software application processes.

One example of this is using a software sensor to identify a specific object in an image, and then using another computer vision system to gather data about that object. Depending on the recognized information, different software processes can be triggered.

What are some of the concerns?

Despite the many benefits of software sensors, there are also some concerns. One of the main concerns is privacy, as software sensors can collect a lot of personal information. Additionally, these technologies can be used to create autonomous systems that may not always make the best decisions. Computer vision systems have to be constantly improved and re-trained based on the learnings, like training a baby how to identify objects.

In the current market conditions, there are many video analytics providers that utilize cloud services as a tool for computer vision. Having all your computer vision data stored in a central location will definitely be less secure than decentralizing them. Starting small is definitely cost efficient for a cloud system but when you decide to scale them up, the cost increases exponentially.

Key considerations

Edge computing systems can enhance privacy by processing the data locally, rather than sending it to a remote server. This can prevent sensitive information from being transmitted over the internet and reduce the risk of data breaches. Additionally, edge computing allows for more fine-grained control over data access, enabling organizations to better protect sensitive information.

The Tesla example

For example, Tesla, the electric vehicle manufacturer, has chosen to abandon the use of LIDAR hardware sensors in favor of camera software sensors in their vehicles. LIDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a sensor that uses laser beams to measure the distance to objects and create a 3D map of the environment. Cameras, on the other hand, capture visual information in the form of images.

There are a few reasons why Tesla has chosen to abandon LIDAR and rely solely on cameras. One reason is cost. LIDAR sensors are currently more expensive than cameras, and using multiple LIDAR sensors in a vehicle would add significantly to the cost. Additionally, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated that he believes LIDAR is unnecessary and that cameras can provide the same level of functionality.

Another reason is that cameras have the ability to detect and recognize objects with high accuracy, especially with the development of deep learning techniques and the use of neural networks. Tesla believes that by using a combination of cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors, they can create a comprehensive sensor system that can detect and recognize objects as well as, if not better, than lidar.

Finally, Tesla is also betting on the scalability of cameras, which are more widely available and easier to manufacture at scale, while LIDAR technology is still in a relatively early stage of development.

Overall, Tesla's decision to abandon LIDAR in favor of cameras is a result of a combination of factors, including cost, functionality, and scalability. The company believes that by using cameras and other sensors, they can create a comprehensive sensor system combined with machine learning and computer software, that can detect and recognize objects as well as, if not better, than LIDAR.

This example demonstrates, software sensors are powerful tools within the computer vision field that have the potential to greatly improve the way we use software and the physical world in the future. The shift from hardware sensors to software sensors can be compared to the shift from purpose built software applications to an application agnostic, multi-purpose operating system, that can be updated with software only.

Conclusion

Overall, software sensors are powerful tools within the computer vision field that have the potential to greatly improve the way we use software and the physical world in the future. The shift from hardware sensors to software sensors can be compared to the shift from purpose built software applications to an application agnostic, multi-purpose operating system.

However, because the data that can be extracted from software sensors is so flexible, it is important to consider the potential consequences of their use and to use them responsibly. Edge computing is a promising approach to enhance privacy in the use of software sensors and computer vision systems.

Learn here how you could create a system that detects dirty dishes in your sink and trigger slack messages to get someone to do the washing-up. See you again in the next article!

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