Sensors Play a Critical Role in Today’s Connected Devices

By Wayne Shockloss | September 14, 2021

Updated: January 2023

Sensor technologies are essential components in smart devices and connected systems. They can gather vital information about vehicles and infrastructure, track biometrics and health conditions, and create greater efficiency and safety in connected industrial environments.

Sensors technologies

Sensors are device enablers that detect, sense, or monitor changes in temperature, heat, light, sound, motion, speed, image, proximity, radar, pressure, flow measurement, optical or other parameters. Using wired or wireless connectivity, the information collected by sensors is sent to other electronic systems which adapt or respond to the data. Sensor technologies are driving new innovations in every market. The sensor market is expected to reach $313.3 billion with a CAGR of 9.5% by 2026, up from $181.7 billion in 2020.

Electro-Optical Sensors Enhance Rail Transportation Safety

Rail Vision is an Israeli startup with cutting-edge cognitive vision electro-optic sensor technology and safety systems for the railway industry. Its unique systems enable trains to detect and classify objects on and along tracks from a distance up to two kilometers in real time, in all weather and light conditions.

Rail Vision electro-optical image based navigation sensors

Rail Vision’s electro-optical image-based navigation sensors detect objects or obstacles (humans, vehicles, signals) and provide rail path detection and avoidance guidance using distance video image measurement and thermal image condition monitoring with both a narrow and wide field of view.

The company’s Main Line System detects obstacles and tracks surroundings up to 2,000 meters, its Shunting Yard System streamlines and automates operations with its visual data collection, the Light Rail Vehicle System provides collision avoidance for urban environments, and the cloud-based Big Data Services System analyzes rail infrastructure and surroundings for collision avoidance.

Knorr-Bremse, a manufacturer of braking systems for the railway and commercial vehicle industry, has partnered with Rail Vision to integrate its electro-optic obstacle detection systems into SBB Cargo’s locomotives for extended testing of the sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) systems to detect and classify obstacles during shunting processes.

Kiepe Electrik, a subsidiary of Knorr-Bremse, is equipping 50 light rail vehicles with collision avoidance systems in the Hanover (Germany) ÜSTRA mass transit network. The system uses a combination of radar and camera sensors to measure distance and speed, and recalibrate speeds to avoid collisions.

TE Connectivity (TE) manufactures speed detection sensors for rail applications. Sensors can be retrofit for existing installations exposed to harsh environmental and EMC conditions or made for compact, embedded sensors in new systems. TE sensors measure properties including speed, position, vibration, pressure, and liquid levels.

TE’s JAQUET speed sensors specialize in speed measurement by providing sensors and complete systems solutions for applications in demanding and harsh conditions. JAQUET speed sensors are available from over a million to hundreds of units.


TE Connectivity’s DSD 25 Series Multi-Channel Hall Effect Speed Sensor for Rail Applications

The reduction of costs and weight of rolling stock, and the upgrade of train control systems, allows increased train density on saturated lines. TE’s Multi-channel Hall speed sensors address these challenges without the addition of weight and costs related to additional sensors. One sensor with two galvanically separated output stages provides reduced weight, less installation time, and greater value.

Lidar Sensors Enable Autonomous Vehicles, Drones, Helicopters, Robots, Navigation, and More 

According to the American Geoscience Institute, lidar (light detection and ranging) uses a pulsed laser to calculate an object’s variable distances from the Earth’s surface. These light pulses are collected, analyzed, and interpreted to generate accurate 3D information about the Earth’s surface and the target. There are two types of lidar: Airborne lidar (installed in drones, helicopters, or aircraft used in the air) and Terrestrial lidar (installed in moving vehicles, machines, or robots used on land).

Lidar sensor technology originated in the 1960s and was first used by the American National Center for Atmospheric Research in meteorology to measure clouds and weather patterns. In the 1980s, lidar was used for GPS navigational mapping. In the early 2000s, lidar was used in the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Grand Challenge, a prize competition for American Autonomous Vehicles. Today, major automobile manufacturers and ride share companies are using lidar to develop autonomous vehicles, drones, machines, and other autonomous mobility systems.

Velodyne Velarray H800 lidar sensor

The Velodyne Velarray H800 lidar sensor enables advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving with a wide horizontal field of view (FOV) to detect objects. Ford Otosan is testing this system for use in its fleet of heavy duty trucks.

Sensors in Consumer Technologies

Velodyne’s Velarray M1600 micro-lidar sensor array package is designed for commercial and industrial autonomous vehicles, robots, warehousing, retail, and medical applications. The M1600’s optical chips have eight lidar channels miniaturized to the size of a penny, forming the engine of its lidar sensor. Other leading lidar sensor technology manufacturers specializing in autonomous vehicles include Luminar, which has partnered with Daimler AG, Intel’s Mobileye, and Volvo; Aeva, which is backed by Porsche and has made a deal with Volkswagen; and Innoviz, which has partnered with Magna, BMW, and Aptiv — just to name a few.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro

Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max use sensors to assist with photo and video effects, and object and room scanning. Lidar sensors enable the iPhone to autofocus six times faster in low light compared to phones with normal cameras. The lidar sensors bring images closer, even in low light and perform especially well in portrait mode.

Apple’s latest lidar-equipped iPhones include 3D scanning of objects, rooms, homes, and offer space-scanning photography (called photogrammetry), which can provide video maps of home spaces with virtual objects and augmented reality (AR). Creative apps are being developed all the time with crisper and clearer 3D video images using lidar sensing technologies. Coupled with 5G, the expanded features of lidar-equipped mobile devices are driving growth in the consumer electronics industry.

Sensors are Essential for Medical Applications 

Medical applications demand the ultimate in accurate and reliable monitoring of critical temperature measurement. Amphenol Advanced Sensors designs and manufactures an extensive line of Thermometrics brand NTC thermistors and non-contact infrared (IR) temperature sensors for vital signs monitoring.

NTS thermistors

Amphenol Thermometrics Sensors’ MA400X temperature probes, available from Mouser Electronics, (left) are designed for steam autoclave sterilization temperatures up to 134°C (or 273°F). Amphenol manufactures interchangeable thermistors (center) and IR sensors (right) for oral, rectal, tympanic, and auxiliary temperature measurements for predictive, clinical, or home thermometers. Amphenol also produces tiny thermistors for assembly into metal housings used to monitor fluid temperature during dialysis.

Amphenol glass sensors

Amphenol Advanced Sensors group also offers miniature chip-in-glass or sleeved chip thermistors with fine diameter wires for insertion into hypodermic needles for specialty applications such as myocardial surgeries and external attachment to metal lumens used during laser surgery.

Amphenol also manufactures small diameter chip-in-glass, or glass bead thermistor assemblies for thermodilution catheters and continuous cardiac output systems. The company manufactures glass diode or epoxy-coated chip thermistors for temperature monitoring of ventilator flow tubes and humidifiers used for respiratory care.

Mini digital output pressure sensors offer high performance over middle pressure ranges of 5 PSI to 60 PSI. The sensors have a 3.3V or 5.0V supply voltage, easing integration of the sensors into a wide range of process control and measurement systems. These sensors are designed for use with non-corrosive, non-ionic working fluids such as air and dry gases. Manufacturers include Amphenol, Bourns, Honeywell, Omron, Silicon Microstructures, TE Connectivity, and others.

Amphenol All Sensors DLH Series Low Voltage Digital Pressure Sensors, available from Mouser Electronics, are based on All Sensors’ CoBeam² TM Technology that reduces package stress susceptibility, resulting in improved overall long-term stability and vastly improved position sensitivity. The digital interface options allow for ease of integration into a wide range of process control and measurement systems, allowing direct connection to serial communications channels.

TE Connectivity ventilators

Sensor-rich ventilator technologies have been critical to patient care during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image courtesy of TE Connectivity)

Through its acquisition of Measurement Specialties, TE Connectivity offers one of the world’s largest portfolios of sensor technologies for medical devices, including air-bubble detectors, force sensors, piezo film sensors, pressure sensors, ventilator sensors (shown above), humidity sensors, photo optic sensors, position sensors, and temperature sensors.

Digital temperature sensors are embedded into home healthcare and personal temperature-tracking devices. These sensors provide accurate measurements of temperature with a digital output signal and small circuit board package for medical devices to monitor the temperature of air in respiratory devices.

TE digital sensors

TE Connectivity’s digital temperature sensors provide 0.1°C accuracy. The temperature system sensors (TSYS) are available in miniature packages designed specifically for tight spaces and respond quickly to changes in temperature.


Maxim Human body temperature sensor

Maxim Integrated MAX30205 Human Body Temperature Sensor, available from Mouser Electronics, accurately measures temperature and provides overtemperature alarm/interrupt/shutdown output. The MAX30205 converts temperature measurements to digital using a high-resolution, sigma-delta, analog-to-digital converter (ADC). The sensor has a 2.7V to 3.3V supply voltage range, low 600μA supply current, and a lockup-protected I2C-compatible interface that make them ideal for wearable fitness and medical applications.


AMETEK sensors

LAND, a South Korean company that is part of AMETEK, designs and manufactures an extensive range of on-line thermometers, line-scanners, and process imagers for continuous temperature measurement and process monitoring, and portable thermal imagers for condition monitoring.

Body temperature screening is the new norm to be expected in public places such as airports, schools, businesses, and other public places. Many more non-contact, thermal, and infrared temperature technologies are likely to emerge to detect, prevent, and reduce the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Sensors will be a critical component in these devices.

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Wayne Shockloss
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