Smart Sensor Technology

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What is Smart Sensor Technology?

The past decade has seen a rapid rise in the availability and deployment of Smart Sensors, but what exactly are they and how are they used? This article will explore what defines a smart sensor, how they differ from traditional sensors, and discuss some of the opportunities Smart Sensors present.

Smart Sensors are a key component of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial IoT (IIoT). A smart sensor is any device capable of measuring some kind of quantity and sending that data for further processing. There are many different types of sensor. Smart sensors commonly found in devices you already own might include: a temperature sensor, a pressure sensor, an indoor air quality sensor, a water level sensor and, or a motion sensor. When multiple smart sensors are combined, the result is a smart system that can deliver a wide range of benefits.

Sensor technology has been advancing rapidly, due in large part to Moore’s Law, which simply states that “computing would dramatically increase in power, and decrease in relative cost, at an exponential pace.” In other words, more abilities can be pushed into computing devices at ever decreasing cost. Moore’s Law, coupled with the explosion of smartphones, tablets and wearables, has dramatically decreased the cost to produce a wide range of components, from processors, to memory and storage devices. In the case of sensors, the cost of many types of sensor has decreased by multiple orders of magnitude. An advanced accelerometer and gyroscope, such as the ones found in any modern smartphone, used to be the size of a jug of milk and the cost of a car. Now they are smaller than a fingernail and cost just a couple of dollars.

A smart sensor differs from a base sensor because it is connected to, and communicates with, broader systems. A smart temperature sensor doesn’t just record temperature, it sends that data for further processing. This enables a broad range of applications, from Smart Cities to Smart Homes, Civil Engineering projects to High School Science projects, and many many more. The smart sensor market is a global market, growing rapidly worldwide, not just in North America. Read on to learn more about this rapidly expanding area of technology.

Characteristics of smart sensors

In today’s world, smart sensors are literally everywhere. From the smartphone in your pocket, to the systems in your car, to systems for monitoring waste management, remote wind farms and ocean pollution. Intelligent sensors are in every smart home and smart city.

But what defines a smart sensor, and how are they different from standard, or base, sensors? In the most general sense, a smart sensor is a device that has at least two elements: signal detection, and signal processing. For example, a simple mercury thermometer is a sensor that measures a signal in the form of ambient temperature. However, since a traditional thermometer cannot do anything with the data it collects, it is not considered a smart sensor. In contrast, a digital thermometer coupled with a low-energy Bluetooth module could not only measure the temperature, it could send that data to another device in order to trigger an action or response. Smart sensors combine multiple elements into a single device in order to make the device more useful. Their overall goal is to convert real world measurements into digital data that can be further processed and acted upon.

Smart sensors combine a broad array of technologies. At their core, they typically use the same kind of semiconductor technology as microprocessors and other devices, combining multiple integrated circuits into a single device. The signal detection component can take many forms. Common examples include an infrared sensor, motion sensor, pressure sensor, proximity sensor and temperature sensor. When combined with signal processing and signal conditioning elements, these base sensors become smart sensors and can form part of a smart sensor system. Smart sensors can be considered IoT sensors when their functionality includes direct or indirect internet connectivity.

Application areas of smart sensors

Almost every industry in the world can benefit from smart sensor technology. Most industrial applications don’t rely on one type of smart sensor such as a humidity sensor or temperature sensor. Instead, a typical deployment will consist of a sensor system that uses many different types of smart sensor. This is also true for non-industrial uses. Sometimes, multiple types of base sensor will be combined in a single device. For example, a proximity sensor might be combined with thermal sensors or pressure sensors. Motion sensors and position sensors are also commonly combined with other sensors and actuators. The rapid rise of low cost, advanced imaging sensors, coupled with improvements in computer vision and machine learning, is leading to a whole new array of novel smart sensor applications.

With increasing concerns about pollution and global climate change, coupled with the global COVID 19 impact, there has been growing interest in the measurement of air quality. From smart cities to commercial buildings to residences, both indoors and outdoors, more people are concerned about air quality than ever before. This presents yet another growth opportunity for the smart sensors market.

Sitewide deployments are often in the form of wireless sensor networks that collect and process data from many sensor types. The data from a smart system of intelligent sensors is yet another type of big data. Analyzing this data can increase efficiency, reduce maintenance costs and eliminate waste. Smart sensors have also been shown to improve everyday life for a wide range of people, helping to address issues in fitness, healthcare and lifestyle.
Smart sensors can add value to almost any process as they provide detailed insights into what is happening at every step. They have applications in everything from agriculture and food production, to medical services and pharmaceutical manufacturing, to power generation and the petrochemical industry and many other industries.

According to analysts Mordor Intelligence, the major players in the market are Honeywell international, ABB Ltd, Analog Devices inc., and GE. However, devices from these companies often rely on a complex supply chain of components from a broad array of semiconductor suppliers.

Technical analysis of smart sensors

Technical analysis of smart sensors is useful for multiple reasons. A primary reason is to determine the efficacy of a specific sensor, although this is highly dependent on the proposed use case. Any given smart sensor only needs to be accurate enough for its given use case. For example, a smart temperature sensor designed for consumer electronics devices will not need to be as accurate as one designed to control an industrial process. Fortunately, the smart sensor market offers a broad array of options, even for a relatively simple device like a temperature sensor. There are many types of sensor technology available in the global smart sensor market.

No matter what sensing technology you wish to use, and whether it is destined for a smart city, or a residential consumer electronics device, another reason for technical analysis is security. Regardless of sensor type, security should always be a primary concern. In the United States and elsewhere, there are countless examples of smart sensors that have been compromised, leading to data breaches and system failures.

As smart sensor technologies continue to evolve, technical due diligence will become increasingly important. In particular, the rapidly evolving field of smart materials is starting to blur the line between materials and sensors. As a result, the smart sensors market will have to continually evolve its approach to technical analysis.

Data from smart sensors is often collected via a wireless network. At the component level, sensor components from companies such as NXP Semiconductor often include the ability to report on their operating status. Product developers integrating these components into new smart sensor devices can include these operating status reports with the sensor data, allowing the performance of the sensor network itself to be monitored.

Development trend of smart sensor technology

Development trends in the smart sensor global market are being driven by multiple factors. Arguably one of the biggest comes from the consumer electronics market: the smartphone. Billions of smartphones have been manufactured, and the ceaseless development of new smartphone features that integrate new types of sensor technology has had a dramatic impact. Mass adoption of smartphones has driven down the size and cost of a wide array of components, from processors and memory to a variety of sensors and displays. For example, the demand for accelerometers and gyroscopes in smartphones took a technology that was once only available in multi-million dollar aircraft, and turned it into a tiny MEMS device that costs less than $5. Consumer demand for other devices, such as wearables and smart appliances is also having an impact.

Another related factor is the continuing advancements in manufacturing technology, both in traditional semiconductor manufacturing and MEMS (Micro-electro-mechanical devices). These advances not only reduce the size and cost of individual components, they also unlock new types of sensor technology. When coupled with advances in machine learning, the global smart sensor market is on the cusp of even greater growth with the arrival of new forms of intelligent sensor. Another growth area is the integration of analog devices within smart sensor networks.

Consumer demand for smart home applications, government interest in smart city development, and the wide array of industrial applications all contribute to the rapid growth of the smart sensors market in North America and around the world. Another rapidly growing application area is health and medicine. Numerous recent advances are making wearable biomedical sensing a practical reality, and there are many ways in which smart sensors can improve patient care. These developments have the potential to improve the health of millions of people worldwide.

In summary, the opportunity for the smart sensors market is enormous and continues to grow rapidly with no slow-down in sight!


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