The Best of Sensors Expo 2008

Since its inception in 1999, the Best of Sensors Expo Awards has aimed to identify those new products (on display at Sensors Expo) that we think offer the best combination of clever engineering, utility, and the potential to change how people work.

Judging Criteria
Nominated products must be commercially available between June 11, 2007 and June 10, 2008. The judges (Melanie Martella, Executive Editor of Sensors; Deb Lickness of John Deere; and Ed Ramsden, Sensors Editorial Advisory Board member and sensor industry expert) reviewed the nominations to identify those products that we believe meet our criteria of distinctiveness, potential impact, and application (meeting a real need). In addition to the long-standing trends of shrinking size and increased integration, one of the additional trends you can see in this year's winners is ease of use.

Gold Award Winners

Analog Device's ADIS16209
Figure 1. Analog Device's ADIS16209 digital inclinometer
We present gold awards to those products that we consider outstanding in their capabilities, application, and usefulness. The ADIS16209 digital inclinometer (Figure 1) from Analog Devices provides 0.1° resolution, direct output, and the ability to tune the device during prototyping or assembly. The judges were impressed both by the level of integration and by its ease of use. Adding dynamic tuning during prototyping and direct output make it far simpler for engineers to incorporate the device into other products. In addition, the inclinometer's impressive specifications are coupled with a $35 price tag, enabling more sophisticated motion detection in a variety of applications.

Cymbet's EnerChip
Figure 2. Cymbet's EnerChip thin-film battery
The EnerChip CBC050 solid-state thin-film battery (Figure 2) from Cymbet supports automated assembly and offers thousands of recharge cycles and very low self-discharge. We liked the fact that this battery is compatible with pick-and-place manufacturing and that its impressive specifications and small size make it a natural fit for wireless applications, especially when used in conjunction with energy harvesting devices.

The Slice and Slice Nano (Figure 3) from Diversified Technical Systems are tiny yet feature-packed DA systems that promise to open up new applications for data acquisition. Within a 25 by 25 mm footprint, the systems use a Base Slice (containing the microprocessor, up to 8 GB of flash memory, USB communications, and other functions) to which are added various sensor and sensor interface slices. There's even a ZigBee slice if you want to add wireless communications. We were wowed by the combination of small size, extensive functionality, sampling up to 1 MHz/channel, and the ability to withstand up to 50,000 G.


Slice and Slice Nano from DTS
Figure 3. The Slice and Slice Nano DA systems from DTS

MicroStrain's Shear-Link
Figure 4. MicroStrain's Shear-Link wireless shear pin
MicroStrain continues its winning streak with its Shear-Link wireless shear pin (Figure 4). The device packs load sensing, wireless communications, and onboard memory into a functional shear pin. Rather than having to apply strain gauges to a structure for structural health monitoring, an engineer can incorporate these wireless shear pins into the structure, vehicle, or aircraft itself. With the increased interest in—and awareness of the need for—more and better structural health monitoring, there's no doubt that this product fills a real need. MicroStrain's trademark combination of utility and highly integrated sensor, signal conditioning, and communications make this a standout.

Silver Award Winners
PhyNet v3.0 (Figure 5) from Arch Rock adds tiered networking to wireless sensor networks (WSNs), improving both their robustness and easing their integration into existing IP-based enterprise networks. Nodes talk to PhyNet Routers which in turn communicate with PhyNet Servers, seamlessly transporting sensor data from the field to an existing LAN or WAN. The PhyNet Router allows users to place server-based sensor applications away from harsh environments experienced by the sensor nodes in the field; using multiple routers provides redundant communications. The PhyNet Server manages collections of WSNs and translates embedded sensor applications into Web services. Because the system uses Arch Rock's IP-based WSN architecture, it eases the integration of sensor data into the enterprise, which we found both impressive and useful.


Arch Rock's PhyNet
Figure 5. Arch Rock's PhyNet v3.0 tiered WSN system

KCF Technologies' WSK100
Figure 6. KCF Technologies' WSK100 wireless sensor kit
The WSK100 wireless sensor kit (Figure 6) from KCF Technologies provides a trio of energy harvesting wireless sensor nodes with supporting software to allow people to investigate self-powered wireless sensing. The qualities that most attracted us were the completeness of this kit. By providing sensors, energy harvesters, and software, the kit contains all of the elements you need to test out a self-powered WSN to see if it works. WSNs are here to stay. Currently, the biggest challenge is to figure out how to power them effectively, and energy harvesting holds great promise in this regard.

The Model D6F-P (Figure 7) from Omron Electronic Components is a MEMS flow

Omron's Model D6F-P
Figure 7. Omron's Model D6F-P flow sensor
sensor that uses an elegant centrifugal flow path to separate out dust in the flow stream, redirecting the clean air over the sensing element. The judges were most impressed that by creating this flow path, the sensor obviates the need for a filter.

Solidica's Solo Volt battery health monitor (Figure 8) is battery agnostic, can monitor voltage, current, temperature, state of charge, and life remaining on up to six batteries at once, and incorporates communications and data storage. Solidica has made a name for itself by providing rugged, heavily integrated sensor systems that meet real-world needs. The Solo Volt is another example of this, with a truly impressive combination of features, not least of which is its ability to work with multiple types of batteries simultaneously. As batteries are used for more systems, including for vehicles, monitoring battery health is more important.


Solidica's Solo Volt
Figure 8. Solidica's Solo Volt battery health monitor

Bronze Award Winners
The MeshScape 5 (Figure 9) wireless sensor networking platform from Millennial Net impressed the judges with its robustness, scalability, and its optimization for process and industrial environments.


Millennial Net's MeshScape 5
Figure 9. Millennial Net's MeshScape 5 WSN system

SignalQuest's SQ-MIN
Figure 10. SignalQuest's SQ-MIN tilt sensor
The SQ-MIN (Figure 10) from SignalQuest is a seriously small mechanical tilt and vibration sensor with very low power consumption. The sensor contains tiny plated weights that open and close the internal circuit as they roll. The combination of very low power operation and speck-like size (it's only 1.4 mm in dia. by 3.2 mm long) makes it a natural fit for portable devices.

Sporian Microsystems' AssetOverseer triaxial high-G accelerometers (Figure 11) draw mere <15 µA supply current and require no external amplification. With ranges of ±200 G, ±500 G, and ±1000 G and a frequency response from 2–2000 Hz, the devices are designed for a range of industrial automation, process control, and testing applications. We were blown away by the sensors' tiny supply voltage, easily the smallest we've ever seen.


Sporian Microsystems' AssetOverseer
Figure 11. Sporian Microsystems' AssetOverseer triaxial accelerometer

Honorable Mentions
Finally, there are always a couple of products that we judges want to recognize in addition to our award winners. The first of our honorable mentions goes to Endevco Corp. for its Model 67 accelerometer (Figure 12) that operates in temperatures up to a very impressive 175°C. Our second honorable mention goes to MeshNetics for its ZigBit Amp (Figure 13) 802.15.4/ZigBee low-power module that provides a LOS range of up to 2.5 miles. Millennial Net wins an honorable mention for its Wi-Stat II (Figure 14) wireless thermostat that is designed to work with existing HVAC networks to improve energy use and monitoring.


Endevco's Model 67
Figure 12. Endevco's Model 67 high-temperature accelerometer
MeshNetics' ZigBit AMP
Figure 13. MeshNetics' ZigBit AMP low-power wireless radio module
Millennial Net's WiStat II
Figure 14. Millennial Net's Wi-Stat II wireless thermostat


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