The Sensing Outdoorsman

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As information technology continues to advance, a new era of consumer-level sensing is unfolding.

Once used mainly in professional scientific, military, or industrial settings, sophisticated sensors are creeping into everyday life--including outdoor leisure pursuits, according to a new report from Social Technologies, a global futurist research and consulting firm based in Washington, DC.

"Hunting and fishing are two areas where sensing is taking off, driven by people's desire to have more and better information in sports where information may be inherently elusive," explains futurist Chris Carbone, director of programs at Social Technologies.

Sensors Extend Natural Abilities

Outdoorsmen are using sensors originally developed for military and law enforcement, often with the intent of extending the user's natural senses and abilities, Carbone explains. Consider the following:

  • Sight. The AimSHOT HeatSeeker is an infrared heat sensor used to find injured, hiding, or drowned game. Once a target is identified the hunter can flip a switch and lasers will automatically point to the exact spot of the heat source, up to 900 feet away.
  • Hearing. Products like the Game Finder MEGAEARS headphones protect hunters against loud sounds, but amplify quiet sounds to help them better sense their environments. These ear phones also allow hunters to judge the distance and direction from which sounds come.
  • Decision-making. Hunters sometimes carry "cut charts" to help them figure the true distance to uphill and downhill targets. For example, a 40-yard shot down a 30-degree slope has a true distance of 33 yards. Now laser rangefinders with electronic tilt sensors can provide the same function. These handheld devices compensate for vertical angles, giving hunters precision distance measurements with which to judge their shots.

Future directions

"Scent may be the next hunting function to be outsourced to sensors," Carbone forecasts, noting this could have two primary applications:

  • Hunters take pains to cover their own scent with special clothing or sprays so as not to spook game. "Electronic nose" technology may someday help hunters assess how well they have covered their scent.
  • For some high-tech hunters, electronic nose sensors may also assist scent hounds such as beagles. "Imagine a handheld device that can help "point" fowl or small game hiding in the brush," says Carbone.

Carbone notes that some electronic nose sensors are already hitting culinary markets. Consumers can, for example, buy a $90 sensor called the Sensor freshQ which tests the freshness of meat and poultry by measuring bacteriological activity. They simply hold the sensor a half-inch away from the meat and it tests for spoilage.

"Advances in sensor technology will move electronic noses out of the kitchen and into other areas of application, and hunting may just be one, but I don't think this will put dogs out of business. These sensors may point game, but they'll never retrieve," jokes Carbone.

Business Implications

How will this development impact business? Carbone suggests:

  • These technologies could diminish the learning curve, making outdoor pursuits more accessible and expanding the markets for fishing and hunting gear.
  • The idea of the "sensing outdoorsman" is just one manifestation of a broader trend which Social Technologies calls the "sensing consumer." As sensors become available, consumers will use them for a variety of tasks--from monitoring health and wellness to improving performance in leisure and outdoor pursuits like hunting.
  • Ubiquitous sensing will eventually be possible, and companies are clearly in the test-and-see state, trying to figure out what sensing capabilities appeal to consumers. The long-term opportunity will be in providing consumers with sensors that give them the information they want and need on demand. The kinds of information that are valued will vary by a consumer's life stage, concerns, and interests.
  • As sensing capabilities spread, tolerance for any kind of impurity in products may decline. Companies may be pressured to reduce even normal background levels of suspect substances, if consumers' new-found awareness of impurity levels reshapes their tolerance for risk.

About Chris Carbone:
Chris Carbone is the director of programs at Social Technologies, coordinating such initiatives as the Futures Consortium, Futures Expeditions, and Futures Observatory. He has worked in research and consulting since 1996, serving a variety of corporate and government clients, contributing his talents todiverse multiclient and custom futures projects, and researching and authoring dozens of reports and scenarios. Chris' areas of inquiry in the past few years include environmental sustainability, emerging technologies, opportunities in the automotive industry, and the future of global consumer lifestyles. Before joining S)T, Chris worked for the futures firm Coates & Jarratt as a researcher and analyst. Chris has an MBA from Johns Hopkins University with a concentration in marketing. Areas of expertise: Advertising and marketing, demography and aging, environment and sustainability.

About Social Technologies
Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington DC, London, and Shanghai, Social Technologies serves the world's leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. A holistic, long-term perspective combined with actionable business solutions helps clients mitigate risk, make the most of opportunities, and enrich decision-making. For information visit http://www.socialtechnologies.com, our blog: http://changewaves.socialtechnologies.com, and our newsletter: http://www.socialtechnologies.com/changewaves.

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