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Sensors and Sensing Systems

(The University of Chicago - Alvin Wei-Cheng Wong)


- Overview

Today's industrial landscape is characterized by unprecedented volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Therefore, operational efficiency along with lower costs and greater safety of assets and personnel is becoming more and more important. Against this backdrop, sensing technology and its advancements play a key role in keeping industrial operations competitive and efficient.

Sensing technology and its various applications continue to evolve as technology and business needs advance. Sensors can be used to detect a variety of real-world properties - from distance to heat to pressure. 

Products today use sensors to sense everything around them, and they are extremely accurate, consume less power, and are cheap to install and maintain. Sensors have proven to be an essential component in creating new value for their processes and their respective businesses.

Some examples of sensing technology include: smart speaker, smart building, wearables, sensor solutions, smartCard Payment, biometric payment, wearable Payment, electrolysis. 


- General Principles of Sensors

The range of sensors is very wide and there are many types, but fundamentally speaking, a sensor is a device that detects the characteristic quantity of the measurement object and converts the characteristic quantity into a readable signal and displays it on the instrument. Sensing technology, simply put, is a technology that uses sensors to detect physical, chemical or biological qualities to obtain information and convert it into readable signals.

There are a variety of sensors available to meet almost any industrial need. For demanding, mission-critical industrial applications, sensors can help improve processes and provide unparalleled asset protection.

These sensors provide instant monitoring, including detection and reporting, as needed for the process. The data monitored and collected by the sensor is sent for control and analysis, and any anomalies in a specific property are reported by sending an electrical signal through the sensor. In this way, sensors can improve process efficiency and product quality while ensuring processes comply with best practices.


The Chiba Urban Monorail_042623A
[The Chiba Urban Monorail, Chiba, Japan - Civil Engineering Discoveries]

- Emerging Types of Sensors and Actuators, and Emerging Applications

Here are some emerging types of sensors and actuators, and their emerging applications:
  • Emerging types of sensors: touch, pressure, thermal, radiation, humidity, chemical, high- performance image and IR, air and pollution, magnetic, water, radar, high performance inertial, high performance microphones, microphone arrays.
  • Emerging types of actuators: high performance micro speakers, optical zoom, micro shutters, energy harvesters.
  • Emerging applications: digital health, body area networks, medical diagnostics and screening, genomics, safety and security, environmental, virtual reality, indoor navigation, quantified self, usage paid insurance.


Here are some emerging sensor technologies: 

  • IoT-enabled sensors: These sensors allow everyday objects to connect to the internet and send and receive data in real time.
  • Smart sensors: These sensors can have a significant impact on many applications, including food safety, environmental monitoring, and medical diagnostics.
  • Wearable sensors: These sensors can be integrated into wearable objects, such as cloths, to monitor health data or collect data. They can be used for physiological and biochemical sensing, motion sensing, and more.
  • AI-enabled sensors: These sensors can integrate onboard AI capabilities to enhance their potential for contextual understanding and autonomous decision-making.
  • Biometric sensors: These sensors can enhance security and authentication.
  • Implantable sensors: These sensors can measure and transmit muscle signals for more precise control of robotic prostheses.
  • Stretchy, transparent sensors: These sensors can feel and respond to complex sensations like skin does.
  • Wireless connections: These sensors can have wireless connections over long distances with an integrated power supply.

Other sensor technologies include: Temperature sensors, Motion sensors, Light sensors, Pressure sensors, Gas sensors, GPS, Inertial measurement unit (IMU, Optical sensors.


- Next-generation Sensors

Next-generation sensors are designed to collect data, observe, and analyze data in real-time. They can also measure multiple parameters at the same time and provide a wider range of data.

Here are some other trends in sensor technology: 

  • Next-generation infrared sensing: A multi-spectral, configurable imaging focal plane array (FPA) that can simplify the optical sensor system architecture.
  • Hybrid image sensors: Organic semiconductors or quantum dots are placed above a CMOS readout integrated circuit (ROIC).
  • Extended silicon: The physical properties of silicon are altered, allowing its absorption range to extend beyond its bandgap capabilities.
  • MEMS sensors: Microscopic devices with moving parts that can assist in motion and audio tracking, as well as touch/haptics control.
  • Self-learning: Sensors will be able to work autonomously and become self-learning.
  • User-aware, self-aware, and semi-autonomous IoT systems


These systems will address new real-time capable solutions that solve performance challenges.


- Wireless Sensor Networks

A wireless sensor network (WSN) of spatially distributed autonomous sensors that monitor physical or environmental conditions such as temperature, sound, pressure, etc., and communicate the data to primary locations through network collaboration. More modern networks are bidirectional and can also control sensor activity. The development of wireless sensor networks has been driven by military applications such as battlefield surveillance; today, such networks are used in many industrial and consumer applications such as industrial process monitoring and control, machine health monitoring, etc. 

Smart grids require a large number of end applications to sense the environment or control smart devices. Due to their low cost and high functionality, wireless sensors are widely deployed in power grids. Relying on the wireless sensor network (WSN), the power grid can build a two-way communication system, and customers can interact extensively with the network, which can not only provide electricity consumption data, but also feed self-produced energy back to the power grid. 

Wireless sensor networks could also enable new smart home electronics, smart energy-efficient buildings and highways, and in vivo networks for analysis and treatment of medical conditions.


[More to come ...]




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