Editorial Feature

The Sensors in Our Electronics

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Sensors are used in a wide variety of industrial processes, handheld devices, automobiles, and in everyday life. In fact, you would be hard pushed to go a day without coming into contact, or within close proximity, of a sensor—they are now ubiquitous in everyday life. Sensors are present in all everyday electronics, and electronics possess a whole host of sensors, not just one. In this article, we look at some of the sensors which are present in the electronics that we use every day.

Sensors are used within our electronics to either monitor one aspect of the device, be it internally or user-defined, or to provide a response when the user performs a function on the device. Without sensors, we wouldn’t have smartphones, nor would we have many electronics that are used nowadays, as there would be no way of being able to use them and no way of telling whether they are running optimally or safely. They really are that important. But what types of sensors are there in our electronics? There are too many to document for all electronic devices, but we look at some of the most common sensors that you will find in everyday electronics below.

Haptic Sensors

Haptic sensors are those that recreate the sense of touch by providing a range of vibrations, forces, and motions to the user. They are widely used in our electronics and are present in everyday touchscreen technologies, such as smartphones, tablets, touchscreen laptops and Sat Nav’s, to name a few. However, these are done by pressing a finger. However, simply holding a device that has haptic sensors within it is enough to provide a detectable response. Examples of these systems include games console controllers with built-in vibration units or older games systems that have a detachable rumble pack. However, haptic sensors are not limited to objects that you touch. Because motion is one of the key features of haptics, haptic sensors have been used in other games consoles such as the Wii and Xbox Kinect, as well as providing the user to feel like they are touching objects in virtual reality systems.

Infrared Sensors

Infrared sensors are one of the oldest sensors used in technology nowadays. There used to be a lot of a greater reliance on infrared before other sensing and wireless connection methods were developed. Nevertheless, they do still have some use, with the most prevalent being in TV remotes and simple robots. In both cases, infrared light is sent from the controller to the receiver with a specific command. When the receiver picks up the infrared signal, it performs the specified command—be it simply changing a channel on your TV or making a robot move.

Temperature Sensors

Temperature sensors are used in so many devices that it is impossible to document them all, but they range from handheld devices such as phones to laptops and computers, to bigger devices/appliances such as TVs and refrigerators. Temperature sensors are perhaps one of the most important sensor classes as they detect and monitor internal temperature changes within an electronic device. Without them, many devices would overheat, but instead, if the temperature of a device exceeds a predetermined threshold, then it will often initiate a safety function that will either start the device’s fans (or another cooling mechanism) to cool the device down, or it will turn the device off. In some devices, temperature sensors will be coupled with humidity sensors to detect the relative humidity of the surrounding environment to see if the water moisture within the local environment could also present a safety hazard to the electronic device.

Accelerometers and Gyroscopes

Accelerometers and gyroscopes are two more types of sensors that have found a lot of use within handheld devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and are the reason that your handheld device is both motion and position responsive. These sensors are key for changing the orientation of your screen and for determining your location (and movement) when using apps such as Google Maps and fitness apps that track your movement. Both sensors are normally used in conjunction with each other, but it is the accelerometer that tracks the acceleration, as well as the tilt, incline, vibrational movement and rotation of the device. Gyroscopes, on the other hand, also determine rotation but are more useful for measured the orientation, angular position and direction of the device.

Sources and Further Reading

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Liam Critchley

Written by

Liam Critchley

Liam Critchley is a writer and journalist who specializes in Chemistry and Nanotechnology, with a MChem in Chemistry and Nanotechnology and M.Sc. Research in Chemical Engineering.


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