Editorial Feature

Sensors in 2017: The Story so Far

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One of the earliest applications of sensor technology was developed and applied by Wilhelm von Siemens in 1860 in an effort to further understand the temperature sensitivity of a copper resistor, and how this property affected its electrical resistance1.

Since the advent of this technology, current sensor technology has primarily utilized silicon to develop devices that are capable of translating certain physical phenomena into electrical outputs that can be processed by a computer.

A wide variety of sensors are currently available on the market to cater to almost every industry. Some of these products include humidity and pressure sensors that are having an increased appearance in smartphone applications, biosensors used for clinical applications and diagnostic purposes, motion detectors, and many more2.

For the past 50 years, the annual and international Consumer Electronics Show (CES), hosted by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), has been the world’s gathering place in which thousands of new and innovative technologies debut their future presence in the marketplace3.

Taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada each year, the CES presents several Innovation Awards to technologies and products that demonstrate remarkable design and engineering within their given category. This past year, the Andersen Verilock® security sensors received the CES Honoree Award in the Smart Home category.

As one of the smartest and most advanced technologies available within the home security system, the Verilock® sensors are able to not only detect whether windows and patio doors are open, they will also notify the homeowner of whether they are locked or unlocked, which is something that no other sensor has been able to achieve so far4.

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Such types of highly sensitive and accurate home security devices incorporated with the advancing sensor technologies will be on the watch list for rising sensor products in 2017.

Aside from security sensors that are present indoors, sensors that are capable of monitoring for potentially harmful particulate contaminants, such as those that arise as a result of dust, soot and smoke release.

The interest in such types of sensors is rising as occupational toxicity in such industries is becoming of increasing threat to its workers, as well as the continued consumer interest in knowing exactly what is present in our ambient environment.

In an effort to alleviate such troublesome worries, Honeywell has recently announced their HPM series particle sensor that is capable of operating in heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems as well as consumer air purifiers for both large-scale and home applications5.

By utilizing a laser technology to accurately monitor fine inhalable particles that measure at a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller, the Honeywell sensor releases an electrical signal that can alert building operators of any possible threat to the air quality of the system5.

Honeywell estimates the sensor to have an impressive lifespan of over 20,000 functional hours, which allows large-scale buildings to benefit from its continuous real time ambient monitoring.

Traditional fingerprint sensors often contain tens of thousands of small capacitive plates that each contain their own electrical circuit embedded within the chip. Once the finger is placed onto the sensor, weak electrical charges are generated, which then create a pattern between the ridges or valleys of the fingertips and the sensor’s plates.

These charges allow the sensor to measure the pattern of capacitance that is present across thee surface of the sensor6. One February 27, 2017, Goodix, an innovative company that has been a leader in developing human interface and biometric technologies since its advent in 2002, debuted its “In-Display Fingerprint Sensor.”

Designed specifically to be integrated into an active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) screen, the Goodix sensor has the potential to completely eliminate the need for mobile devices to have a button for fingerprint sensor purposes7.

Additionally, the In-Display Fingerprint Sensor will also allow for borderless mobile devices to be a realistic product, thereby increasing the screen-to-body area ratio for an even greater full-sized display.

In early January 2017, Quanergy Systems, Inc., a leading producer of automotive smart sensing technologies, announced that they will begin production and delivery of their revolutionary S3 LiDAR system8.

LiDAR stands for light detection and ranging, and this remote-sensing technology utilizes air in the form of a pulsed laser to measure variable distances of an object to the Earth. These received light pulses, which are often combined with other recorded data from the airborne system, create precise, three-dimensional (3D) information9.

As each of these pulses are distributed out in approximately a single microsecond, the S3 is capable of delivering almost a million data points per second of its operation. When applied in a vehicle for autonomous control purposes, the S3 collects the data from both a horizontal and vertical field of view of 120 degrees, which allows the vehicle to readily spot a potential obstacle and rapidly make a decision on the motion of the vehicle10.

As the world’s first and only automotive-grade solid LiDAR system that fits in the palm of your hand, the S3 is also extremely user-friendly, as it is able to be easily integrated into the design of any vehicle.

The application of such a device, marketed at only $250, will continue to allow self-driving vehicles to be a realistic alternative to the traditional manual modes of transportation. In fact, Quanergy is hopeful that over the next several years, they will be able to release a $100 version of the S3 device that can potentially be embedded into mobile devices10.

Any type of autonomously operated vehicle requires high quality cameras to perform certain crucial tasks for its operations. These actions include accurate lane line detection, an ability to read street signs, adequately interpret streetlights and much more.

Sony’s innovative 2.45 megapixel IMX390CQV sensor has advanced features that are expected to revolutionize the world of self-operating vehicles. A street scene during the evening will most often have several varieties of illuminations present from varying objects.

Of these can include light shining from the stoplight, a small amount of illumination coming from a hovering street sign and brightness that is reflected from the high beams of vehicles ahead of or behind your own car.

A typical car will require multiple different types of cameras of varying exposures or computational imaging software to reliably detect the differences in these light sources11.  With an extremely high sensitivity of 1,953 mV in converting electronic signals received from the photodiodes to voltage signals, this sensitivity is 1.5 times higher than that of any imaging sensor currently available on the market.

Additionally, the new sensor exhibits a dynamic range of 120 decibels (dB) that not only allows for the entire scene of the vehicle to be captured in a single frame, but also substantially reduces the single-to-noise ratio12.

From each of these devices, it is evident that the field of sensor technology has a wide range of applications that are advancing each and every industry in a variety of ways. While each product has a final goal of improving the way in which we conduct our everyday lives, advancements in this technology continue to arise in the scientific world each and every day.

References

  1. "Expanding the Vision of Sensor Materials." National Academies Press. Web. https://www.nap.edu/read/4782/chapter/4.
  2. EngineersGarage. "Sensors: Different Types of Sensors." EngineersGarage. 21 Mar. 2017. Web. https://www.engineersgarage.com/articles/sensors.
  3. "About Us." CES. Web. http://www.ces.tech/about-us.
  4. "Andersen Connect." Smart Home Solutions. Web. https://www.andersenwindows.com/connect/.
  5. "New Sensor Monitors Air Quality in Buildings." Electronics News. 18 Apr. 2017. Web. https://electronicsnews.com.au/new-sensor-monitors-air-quality-in-buildings.
  6. "Our Hardware." Fingerprints Biometric Sensors. Web. https://www.fingerprints.com/technology/hardware/.
  7. "Goodix Debuts World’s First In-Display Fingerprint Sensor at MWC 2017." Goodix. 27 February 2017. Web. http://www.goodix.com/news/detail1234.html.
  8. "Quanergy S3 Solid State LiDAR, the World's First Affordable Solid State LiDAR Sensor, to Begin Full Scale Manufacturing in 2017." Business Wire. 03 Jan. 2017. Web. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170103005387/en/Quanergy-S3-Solid-State-LiDAR-Worlds-Affordable.
  9. "What Is LIDAR." NOAA's National Ocean Service. US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 01 Oct. 2012. Web. http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lidar.html.
  10. Ackerman, Evan. "Quanergy Announces $250 Solid-State LIDAR for Cars, Robots, and More." IEEE Spectrum. IEEE Spectrum, 07 Jan. 2016. Web. http://spectrum.ieee.org/cars-that-think/transportation/sensors/quanergy-solid-state-lidar.
  11. Cardinal, David. "Sony’s New Sensor Is Designed to Help Self-driving Cars See Better." Extreme Tech. 17 Apr. 2017. Web. https://www.extremetech.com/electronics/247709-sonys-new-sensor-designed-help-self-driving-cars-see-better.
  12. Sony. "Sony Commercializes the Industry's First Automotive 2MP High-Sensitivity CMOS Image Sensor with LED Flicker Mitigation and HDR." PR Newswire. 12 Apr. 2017. Web. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/sony-commercializes-the-industrys-first1-automotive-2mp-high-sensitivity-cmos-image-sensor-with-led-flicker-mitigation-and-hdr-300438749.html.

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