If you have motion sensors to help keep your home secure or use doors that automatically open when you get close to them, you’re already familiar with smart sensors. Smart sensors have been around for a while, but with the exponential growth of Internet of Things devices these sensors have grown as well. Used for various applications in different industries, these sensors can make things more efficient and easier. But what exactly is a smart sensor?

Smart sensors are devices that take information from a physical environment and use embedded microprocessors and wireless communication to monitor, examine, and maintain various systems. They have the ability to collect environmental data more accurately with less erroneous noise. Though they’re used for a variety of applications, they’re most commonly found in monitoring mechanisms, such as smart grids, science applications, and security systems.

So, how do they work? Smart sensors rely on built-in microprocessors to help them perform various functions, like digital processing, code conversion of analog to digital, interfacing functions, and calculations. They also determine when data needs to be stored or deleted in accordance with the input they collect.  

They also use Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) and Very Large Scale Integration technology (VLSI) to help them function. MEMS allows the sensor to handle large amounts of data in a fraction of a second. It also enhances and improves the sensor's self-calibration functions. VLSI is part of MEMS that converts collected data to electrical signals that can be used for processing, display, recording, and transmission. 

Smart sensors have four main functions:

  • Measurement 
  • Configuration
  • Verification
  • Communication

Measurements are taken by detecting physical signals and converting them into electrical signals. This helps measure and monitor things, such as traffic, temperature, and industrial applications. Configuration is an important feature because it allows the sensor to detect alignment or installation errors, while the verification function has a variety of uses, such as continuous supervision of the intelligent sensor’s behavior, using a set of supervisory equipment/circuits implemented in the sensor. Finally, the communication feature enables the sensor to talk to the main microprocessor or microcontroller.

A perfect example of smart sensors is a connected home. Lights turn on when motion is sensed. Thermostat changes when people return home. (Pixabay)

With their monitoring and tracking capabilities, smart sensors are used in a wide range of applications. Various industries have turned to smart sensors to help them with different monitoring tasks, including, but not limited to:

  • Flood and water level monitoring
  • Animal and agriculture tracking
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Traffic monitoring and control
  • Remote system monitoring and equipment fault diagnostics
  • Transport and logistics
  • Industrial applications

But the biggest role smart sensors play is in the IoT. Cell phone navigation, wearable devices, and autonomous cars all rely on smart sensors in some way. More markets are replacing basic sensor systems with smart ones for their efficiency, ease of use, and advanced communication features. And because these systems are so versatile, they can easily be adopted for different industries and applications. 

The smart sensor market is only getting bigger and better. As we’ve seen, smart sensors can handle a variety of tasks across many different industries. What they can do continues to grow as more people find new and innovative ways to use them. With their advanced technology, monitoring capabilities, and efficiency it’s only a matter of time before they replace all basic sensors.