future of sensor technology

Trend

Insights into the Growing Sensor Market

An interview with Sean Gough, Senior Director of Product Management for TE Connectivity (TE) Sensor Solutions

Author

Content originally published in Focus Magazine in partnership with Avnet Abacus

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What are the top three trends you see in sensors today?

The first key trend is miniaturization. Sensors are proliferating across countless applications as we move to an increasingly connected world. Many of those applications require multiple sensors in a small footprint with no degradation of performance – and often with very low power requirements. The second is digitization. With so many applications playing in the IoT space, the shift to digital is required for intelligent sensors that not only capture sensing data, but also interpret that data for a variety of applications. Sensor fusion represents the third major trend. As with the trend towards digitization, multi-sensor integration is directly related to IoT proliferation and the expectation that everything is connected. The need to capture multiple types of measurement in extremely small packages is pushing the development of multi-sensing elements. These three trends often overlap along with a need for higher performance at lower costs.

battery

Low Power

microscope

Miniaturization

fusion

Sensor Fusion

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Tell us about the meaning of sensor fusion and its implications?

Historically, many pressure transducers could be supplied with temperature-sensing options. Now, many of our sensors include temperature at a minimum and we see the need to add other types of sensor. We now have tri- and quad-sensor designs that reduce cost and complexity for our customers. The breadth of our product range coupled with our application expertise allows us to leverage our portfolio to overcome design obstacles and drive real innovation in sensor fusion.

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What are the key growth markets for the different types of sensors?

We see four main growth markets for sensors today. One is in pressure sensing. The need to sense pressure is growing strongly in most markets. Target applications include wearables and medical devices, as well as drones, home appliances, industrial applications and transportation. Many of these applications also call for temperature sensing. Condition monitoring for industrial and automotive machinery, as well as the high-power batteries that are now being used to supply power, represent important growth markets for temperature sensing. Temperature sensing in wearables for healthcare is another important sector. The third key area is force sensing, with applications in aerospace, medical instruments, appliances, elevators and a new generation of high-power electric motors. Finally, we see a growing need for position sensing in applications as diverse as money-handling systems, industrial equipment, automotive systems and medical devices.

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Give us a couple of fun examples of where your sensors have been used in an innovative or unusual application.

We have countless examples. One that stands out is a piezo film that has been used in a baseball-pitching cage to outline the strike zone and report balls and strikes. In another example, our pressure sensors are used now in a ‘drone hunter’. It’s a drone that hunts and captures other drones using a large net. Our sensor monitors the pressure cylinder that is used to deploy the capture net.

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What are some examples of value added capability?

Where a standard or platform sensor is not the optimum solution, we are the engineer’s engineer. Our broad portfolio lets us choose the best technology for an application where others might try to shoehorn a technology into an application. Our extensive experience in developing highly engineered sensors for severe environments enables us to develop explicit and implicit product and environmental specifications with our customers, then design, develop and qualify sensor solutions for a wide range of mission-critical applications. A good example of this can be found in applications requiring position sensing. LVDT technology is often seen as the solution. But it creates complexity for engineering designs in that it requires alternating current. Our engineers can often recommend lower-cost, more reliable potentiometers that only require DC current and so reduce design complexity.

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What advances will we see in the next five years and beyond in sensor technology?

Many of the advances will be incremental. We will continue to see progress along the axes of miniaturisation, performance and price for digital and wireless sensing. There will also be an increasing emphasis on smart sensing, using on-board sensor capabilities to analyse data and transmit ’vital data’ rather than simply ’big data’. Sensor proliferation and sensor fusion will continue to accelerate as security within the IoT improves and makes it safer to transmit important data. That will enhance remote operating capabilities. While that is happening, the application of sensors to consumer devices will drive down cost and improve performance. In turn that will lead to adoption in other industries and open up applications that were previously unrealistic from a cost standpoint. From a technology standpoint, nanosensing offers a promising path to a true disruption, as do sensing polymers and advances in spectroscopy based on optical sensors.

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