In a modern world, they are present all around us. In our smartphones, in the machines that build our cars and sometimes even in our garage doors or water taps: Smart sensors. Previously used only in manufacturing, their influence continues to increase in other areas, including our private sphere. This might seem scary at first, but sensors are actually awesome and can make our lives so much easier.
Imagine you’re on your way to dinner in a busy part of town, and instead of having to drive through the same streets over and over again, your mobile phone tells you where to find the next empty parking space. On your way home, your car’s navigation system knows exactly which route to suggest to avoid traffic jams. At the same time, the city’s transport department gets real-time information on when to change traffic lights and the route of garbage trucks is optimized by tracking the exact rubbish levels in containers. Thanks to sensors, smart cities are no vision of the future anymore. We’re already living in them.
From accelerometers in your wearables, measuring body movement to track your steps or sleep rhythm, to industrial sensors determining the rotations per minute of huge wind turbines – modern sensors can be used in nearly every conceivable application.
There is a big number of sensors measuring anything related to water. They detect leakage or waste in rivers and preserve the health of animals and humans. They keep your house from being flooded (costs due to home water damage in the US account to $2,500 per affected household). And they can even notify you if there is something wrong with the water levels inside your fish tank.
Look around you. How many sensors do you think have been installed in the room, vehicles or on the street nearby (think sliding doors etc)? But can you see them? Probably not. Sensors track everything but they are almost always hidden.
What if sensors could help you get financial perks and tracking your own health and fitness becomes more than just a personal motivation booster? Some employers have started to give their employees bonus vacation days if they can prove they work out and eat healthily and thus reduce sick days. A similar concept would be possible for insurance companies. For example, not speeding might earn you a discount on your cars’ insurance. So let’s hope, more and more companies adopt this trend and we save money with the help of sensors.
The lightest and smallest representatives of industrial robots, called collaborative robots, are meant to work side by side with humans. Even though their movements are less powerful, collisions with their human co-workers still shouldn’t happen. In order to prevent accidents, sensors are installed in the robotic joints, stopping a movement within microseconds after contact with the wrong person or object.
We rely on our smartphone for different aspects of our lives. It is our city map, notepad and fitness instructor all in one. In turn, our phone relies on more than ten sensors that are installed inside it. They can turn it into a compass, a gaming controller, a barometer, or automatically switch off wifi connections when you’re using public transport. With the help of modern sensors, your phone may even measure your heart rate or scan your fingerprints.
Modern sensors can be designed in such a robust way that they are fully functional when facing high temperatures, humidity, dirt, magnetic fields or vibrations. While these external influences used to falsify measuring results or even damage the equipment, sensors can now be used in demanding applications such as mining, power plants or the oil & gas industry.
What do soil moisture and trunk diameters have to do with the quality of our free time? Exactly. In vineyards, these factors are closely linked to the amount of sugar in grapes as well as their health. Monitoring them, therefore makes wine much tastier. Sensors can also be applied to selectively irrigate dry areas on golf courses and ensure the quality of the facility.
Sensors are at the heart of the Internet of Things. Thanks to their impressive accuracy, response times, and their compatibility with various modern interfaces, sensors help machines exchange data and key information automatically and in real time. This enables machines to keep each other up to date regarding the status of their work or storage robots to autonomously order supplies if shelves are empty. Thanks to M2M communication, industrial robots can even work hand in hand, so to speak.
When it comes to the food industry, sensors not only monitor the filling level of bottles and cans. They also help maintain the mixing ratio of the ingredients, thus making sure your favorite drink always tastes the same. And temperature sensors inside warehouses help to isolate meat and other sensitive goods, so they don’t go bad.
Modern sensors are much more accurate than previous generations. In fact, new technologies such as smart sensors even measure up to ten times more precisely than their predecessors.
Be it forest fires, landslides, avalanches or earthquakes, natural disasters can be detected early or even prevented entirely with the help of fast and precise sensors in connected systems. In the case of landslides, for instance, sensors not only track vibrations but also look at soil moisture or earth density to issue emergency warnings in time. Sensors are also able to keep humans out of hazardous areas, automatically start sprinkler systems in the case of fire or notify pilots of air turbulences. In short, they can serve as our guardian angel.