26 October 2022

Digital Devices and Human Lives

Dr Almon Wei Yen Chai

Digital devices have been around for many decades. With the emergence of the covid19 coronavirus in the beginning of 2020, and followed by the movement controls in numerous countries, we have been embracing digital devices in their different forms. These devices appear in forms of the mobile phone, tablets, laptops, computer desktops, smart-watch, and even the smart-glass. We have also started using devices such as the webcam, microphone and even audio-visual processing equipment for work, education, and leisure. Heart-rate sensors, running and cycling cadence sensors, and multi-function palm-sized computers get connected to provide users with all types of data related to sports and health, either in leisure or in competition.

More functions have been introduced into digital devices to cater for different new uses that end-users need. Mobile phones are getting upgraded front-facing cameras with higher resolutions, better lighting, and frame rates. Some recent mobile phone models even include safety functions such as event or incident detection and reporting, especially when an accident involving the user has occurred. Microphones are now able to pick up sounds from a larger range of frequencies. Laptops and computer desktops are being fitted with more powerful processors, graphic chips, higher-resolution screens and more. Sports sensors can now collect data on heart arrhythmia, and abnormal rates and even assist to inform family members of the user in cases of emergency.

As we move from personal devices to vehicles, we are seeing more cars and trucks fitted with multiple cameras. These cameras work wonders in providing users with the ability to view the surrounding of the vehicle. When coupled with functions such as anti-collision, lane-keeping, cruise-control, and 360-degree-view to aid parking, this all provides the user with a higher degree of piece-of-mind. More homes are now installed with digital systems, when coupled with sensors and cameras, allowing the home user a greater level of control and comfort. Users can control when the kettle should turn on, check if the windows or doors are properly closed if the cat is being fed, or even turn on the air-conditioning while the user is still on the way home.

The technology behind all these digital devices has gone through multiple stages of improvement, and even at drastic rates during 2020 and 2021. The amount of work and research invested in the design, testing and development of the existing and new technology all happen behind the scenes. This requires scientists, technologists, and engineers from diverse backgrounds to contribute to the production of devices with new technology. As digital devices are being carried and used by humans, human-factor specialists, and experts in human-machine interface also chip in ideas to the design of the devices and equipment. Their contribution goes beyond hardware, well into the software categories. Graphical user interfaces also require tactful consideration in font sizing, menu colour selection and even keypad layout. These help users in perception, and proper and safe use of the devices or equipment. Newer sensors and cameras deployed for home use are now able to pick up a higher level of detail, sense over a much wider space and pick up more detail such as movement, temperature, humidity and even smoke.

While we are seemingly dependent on digital devices, the devices depend on our creativity, knowledge, and sensible use. Product designers and manufacturers also rely on user feedback so that they know how their devices have fared, where they excelled and failed. When the designers obtain such feedback, they return to their drawing boards to come up with better devices. Manufacturers rely on this information for the newer generations of digital devices. This loop goes on and on. As we move towards the end of 2022 and into the future, we will continue to see and use more digital devices in our daily lives.

As end-users, it is our responsibility to exercise careful and proper use of such devices as they become part of our lives, at the same time appreciating how the devices have helped us, and the amount of work and effort put into them.

Dr Almon Wei Yen Chai is a senior lecturer and Coordinator for the Robotics and Mechatronics Program for the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Science. He can be reached via email at achai@swinburne.edu.my