Sensors are the heart and soul of IoT devices, considering most devices transmit and receive information through sensors. The evolution of sensors and the advancement of sensor technology over the years throw open several innovative use cases, taking technology in general, and IoT in particular to new heights. Here’s a review of what the latest sensors bring to the table.
Interactive System Gains Ground
Advances in sensor technology enable devices to interpret images, sounds, and other rich data easily, without the support of powerful processing capabilities. As such, it is becoming very easy to develop user interfaces which react to natural speech, facial expressions, gestures, and other non-traditional inputs.
One technology which has caught on by leveraging such interactive sensors is on-chip audio processing. The technology does not require an Internet connection and frees devices from cloud-based voice interpretation systems.
Google’s project Soli, the new ultra-low power, a precision gesture-sensing mechanism for smartphones, computers, wearables, and other IoT devices. The technology allows users operate the device through gestures. The device leverages radar technology to virtualize activate imaginary dials, knobs, slides, and other controls between the fingers of a hand.
The Rise of MEMS
The sensors of today are becoming more miniaturized and donning the avatar of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS). This enables permeation of sensors new applications, offering newer potentials.
Smart sensors embedded in products improve the manufacturing process. Such sensors may be deployed to set range and ensure process accuracy, control the process, and improve operations. MEMS attached to the end product may also be used to monetize products, and offer more products on a “rent” rather than “buy” basis. For instance, sensors could accurately track usage of furniture or electronic device, and charge users accurate rent.
Attaching low-cost wireless sensor networks (WSN) nodes to fruit and vegetable cartons in transit maps the quality of the goods on a real-time basis, based on vital parameters such as location, temperature, smell, jerkiness of the ride, and more. This enables a new FEFO (First Expire, First Out) model, and unloading cargo set to expire on an urgent basis, drastically reducing inventory spoilage and wastage.
MeetGlow, an innovative new product use wireless sensors to monitor electrical devices in a household or a plant and send real-time alerts to the homeowner’s smartphone. About 40% of the electricity goes waste, on average. By making visible energy use as it happens, users can cut waste and save money.
The Advancement of Sensor Fusion Technology
Sensors technology has advanced significantly, to the point it has now begun to mimic the human brain.
Sensor fusion collates information from multiple temperature sensors, proximity sensors, infrared sensors, accelerometers. lights sensor, ultrasonic sensors, smoke sensors, alcohol sensors, and various other sensors. A microcontroller fuses individual data collected from such multiple sensors, to get more accurate and reliable view from the data, and get contextual awareness surrounding the data.
The opportunities are endless.
- Gaming platforms could acquire data such as muscle relaxation, heart rate variability, sweat, jerky movements, muscle contraction, and other vital statistics from multiple sensors embedded inside then smartphone, to detect emotions and make the game more exciting. A driving game could make the turns faster and more difficult to manoeuvre in until the gamer shows a more relaxed state, as manifested by a less jerky reading from the accelerometer.
- The emotion sensing and processing capabilities made possible by sensor fusion offer many rich possibilities in healthcare, marketing, and other real-life situations. For instance, data from multiple sensors could reveal the number of jerks or the number of backstrokes, to analyze the way a user holds a cell phone to call or type, and thereby detect the user’s emotions.
- Multiple sensors fitted in the vehicle and on roads could analyze the way a vehicle is moving, and alert the police of an intoxicated driver behind the wheel, for timely and proactive action.
The Emergence of Low-Cost Sensors
Side-by-side with the advancements in sensor technology, the cost of sensors has come down rapidly. It is the sheer non-availability and high costs of the sensors which have so far inhibited the widespread permeation of IoT into our daily lives. For instance, sophisticated sensors offer a world of benefits for freight transportation, but its use is still not widespread as the cost of implementing the sensor technology invariably exceeds the revenue generated by the freight trip. Reduction of cost of sensors removes this major stumbling block towards the widespread permeation of IoT.
The easy availability of low-cost sensors offers a wide variety of applications, especially in the logistics space. It also proves great and effective ideas need not be costly.
Until now, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) was limited to office work. Low-cost sensors make it viable to replace dedicated, bulky and inflexible Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) with smartphones already available with the drivers. Installing a simple SaaS-based application makes it possible to double up the smartphone as an ELD. Drivers not only get greater flexibility but may also communicate vital statistics about the trip easily and seamlessly.
Sensor embed smartphones may be used to scan freight, manage orders, take 3D images, and capture documentation. Volume scan of cargo makes it easy for the distribution centre to take decisions regarding the dispatch of the carriers without investing time into physical checking. This eliminates a good chunk of the unproductive detention time spent by the driver at the distribution and drop centres.
Advancements in sensor technology have the potential to herald a whole new world. The opportunities are endless, limited only by imagination.