Giving awards is fun (see our report on the 2005 Best of Sensors Expo awards). So much so that it almost makes up for the agony of evaluating entries.
In the case of our Best of Sensors Expo awards, few entries are easy to dismiss. The vendors, who nominate their own products (who can better explain their intent and purposes?), know the criteria and typically nominate qualified candidates.
Barbara G. Goode
The toughest part is estimating "the potential for changing the way people work," which includes broadness of application. Once a product has answered in the affirmative to all other questions, including, "is it unique or at least very different from other products on the market?" (this involves sweeping knowledge of the many technologies and features available, plus a substantial judgment call), potential impact both deep and broad is the single criterion that elevates the winners. And that's where the agony comes in.
Here's an example: Sensors Unlimited's (www.sensorsinc.com) SU320USVIS-1.7RT Visible-InGaAs SnapShot dual-wavelength microcamera can image simultaneously in both visible and near-IR, producing a single, combined image. It weighs 2.5 oz. "Pretty freakin' cool," says Senior Editor Melanie Martella. "Because this new technology is so new, we don't really know how or to what degree it will change how people work," says Martin Ettenberg of Sensors Unlimited. Nuff said.
In some cases a product's potential impact is deep but not broad. Millennial Net's (www.millennialnet.com) Mesh485 is a wireless replacement for RS-485 cabling, the standard used throughout commercial buildings for energy management and building automation. The hardware modules are packaged to work with industry-standard devices, and the software provides a low-power, self-configuring networking protocol with redundant paths. The application is limited, but its impact for the building automation market may be big.
Here are a few other favorite entries from among this year's applicants:
- 1. Micronor's (www.micronor-ag.com|~www.micronor-ag.com/) ZapFree passive rotary encoder system (photograph at right). Its all-optical design requires just a single fiber connection between the encoder itself and its remote interface module, and offers advantages inherent to fiber optics (including immunity to EMI/RFI, intrinsic safety, groundlessness, light weight, cable lengths to 1000 m, and ability to operate from within the harshest environments).
- 2. OPTEK Technologies' (www.optekinc.com|~www.optekinc.com/) OPB350 (photograph below) is an optoelectronic liquid sensor that wraps around clear tubing up to 0.25 in. to maintain the integrity of a system. Its LED/phototransistor pair uses the difference in IR transmission properties between the filled and unfilled tubing to generate a signal. With this information it's possible to determine the presence of liquid and to measure differences in viscosity.
- 3. Sensor Platforms' (www.sensorplatforms.com|~www.sensorplatforms.com/) SSP1492 is a signal conditioning chip with multiple inputs, allowing it to support up to 15 resistive, capacitive, inductive, voltage, and pulse-driven sensors (even a custom assortment of these sensor types) simultaneously.
- 4. Xcelerated Integrations' (www.xceleratedintegrations.com|~www.xceleratedintegrations.com/) Minuteman ZigBee-ready ultrasonic level sensor, created with ZMD (www.zmd.com|~www.zmd.com/), is a rugged unit designed to monitor remote tanks for effective inventory management. It operates across a battery-powered star network, and reports tank level data once per day via standard microburst cellular technology to a central data repository where it can be viewed on XI's Level Vision.com Internet service.
I'll stop there. And, I'll choose agony over boredom.
Barbara G. Goode, Editor in Chief