Sensors – The most vital element of the Internet of Things

Date: October 15, 2019

Author: Ipshita Biswas

The Internet of Things (IoT) is no longer an enigmatic labyrinthine, understood by few and discussed by everyone. Today, as we speak, IoT is proving most of its predictions correct by being successfully deployed in mainstream businesses. Long before the term Internet of Things came into existence, the technology innovators scratched their heads on various ideas for connecting physical devices or machines.

As per the market experts, there will be about 50 billion connected devices by 2020.

In 1999, Kevin Ashton coined the term ‘Internet of Things’ by giving a definition that was based on reinventing RFID as a connectivity technology by connecting devices/things to the internet by the means of the RFID tag. In the years that followed, several inventions altered the definition originally envisioned by Kevin Ashton, yet the basic principle remains the same. To date, the Internet of Things remains a network of interconnected objects which communicate with each other, simultaneously sensing the surroundings to gather, analyze and transfer information using the internet.

Major Components of the Internet of Things

The most significant component of an Internet of Things architecture is the device connectivity layer which is composed of the internet and the sensors, devices and the actuators. The prime purpose of these sensors and devices is to continuously collect information and transfer them to the subsequent layer. In this section, we shall discuss the sensors and connectivity in detail as that’s the prime intent of this article.

A gateway serves as the bridge between the cloud and the sensors or devices. Every data either towards or from the cloud has to pass through the gateway which can be in the form of a hardware device or a software program. Gateways place a more significant role when pre-processing of data is required before sending them to the cloud. Some sensors generate a huge amount of data. Thus, when they are collected, analyzed and pre-processed at the Edge by the gateway, it reduces the load on the cloud by minimizing the volume of the data to be sent to the cloud. This process can be a boon in terms of reducing the response time and transmission costs. That’s how Edge Computing has risen. IoT Gateway also offers security to the network.

Cloud is a network of sophisticated and high-performance servers, programmed to perform data processing at great speed, managing data traffic and delivering accurate analytics.

Analytics involves the process of conversion of billions of data collected from the devices into meaningful insights which can easily be interpreted and further analyzed. One major improvement of recent IoT systems enabled the users/engineers to analyze the required data in real-time and accordingly take action to avoid unwanted scenarios.

The significant role of sensors

As stated previously, the prime purpose of sensors is to amass data from the surrounding environment. Sensors are what constitute the ‘things’ of an IoT system, thus representing the front end. After a certain amount of signal conversion and processing, these sensors are either directly or indirectly linked to the IoT networks. The data collected by sensors varies from local conditions and other findings, which they share with the other powerful components for further processing. IoT systems of today typically use a number of such sensors and place them across a large area. Wireless sensors are nowadays the widely used ones and they use any of the suitable wireless technology to communicate with central hubs, gateways, and servers.

Even with the prime purpose of collecting data from the environment, all sensors are significantly different from one another and each IoT application, based on several requirements, uses different types of sensors.

In the next section, we shall explore the different types of sensors available and how they are used in the IoT applications.

Types of IoT Sensors

There are different parameters to classify sensors. The simplest sensor classification is based on whether the sensor requires an external excitation to generate an output response or if it does not require any. The former is known as Active sensors and the latter as Passive sensors.

There’s another parameter for classification which is based on the mode of detection used in the sensor. For instance, the different means of detection are – Electric, Biological, Chemical, Radioactive, etc.

Conversion phenomena is yet another parameter used for classification. Some of the most common conversion phenomena are Photoelectric, Thermoelectric, Electrochemical, Electromagnetic, Thermooptic, etc.

Sensors are also classified into Analog and Digital. As the name suggests, Analog sensors produce continuous output and Digital sensors work with discrete data.

Here’s a list of the types of sensors commonly used in IoT applications:

  • Temperature Sensor
  • Proximity Sensor
  • Motion Detection Sensor
  • Accelerometer
  • Water Quality Sensor
  • Chemical Sensor
  • IR Sensor (Infrared Sensor)
  • Pressure Sensor
  • Light Sensor
  • Ultrasonic Sensor
  • Smoke, Gas and Alcohol Sensor
  • Touch Sensor
  • Color Sensor
  • Image Sensor
  • Optical Sensor
  • Humidity Sensor
  • Tilt Sensor
  • Flow and Level Sensor

Trends in Sensing Technology

With the increasing demand of the IoT applications, there are certain trends that get imbibed into the sensor universe. Most common among these trends are Miniaturization, Digitization and Sensor Fusion.

Miniaturization is the prevailing trend in the technical world. Be it satellites, drones, handheld devices, or wearables, every significant appliance is following suit.

Moore's Law refers to Moore's perception that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, though the cost of computers is halved.

As the IoT applications evolve, so is the need to incorporate multiple sensors while keeping other physical aspects intact, alongside the necessity of keeping the performance high and requiring low-power. Thus, the need for sensor miniaturization arises. With the variety of applications entering the IoT space, intelligent sensors are required to make a shift to the digital as they are also required to interpret the sensing data alongside capturing them.

Next comes the most significant current sensor trend, i.e. Sensor Fusion. Sensors are gradually expected to mimic the ultimate sensing machine, i.e. the human being. Sensor fusing is the process of bringing the sensing technology close to this very goal. Sensor fusing, as the name suggests, fuses data from multiple sensors to reduce errors and uncertainty and deliver accurate results in comparison to using individual sensors. Basically, a situation is constructed where the entire fused sensing is much better than the sum of its fragments.

MEMS sensors are very common in IoT applications. But, the demanding IoT requirements involve the role of sensors from simple monitoring to complete interpretation of the condition and position. Most of these tasks call for the simultaneous analysis and merging of data collected from different sensors of different types which can be anything like motion sensors (accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers), environment sensors (light level, color, temperature, pressure, humidity) and many others. As an example, determining the orientation of a system in a 3D space is one of the most common applications of sensor fusion technology. This application is a part of a number of industrial and consumer applications, like smart meters, industrial robots, smartphones, wearables, etc.

PathPartner’s Sensor Expertise

PathPartner being a leading technology enabler for years, have gather experience and expertise in various types and categories of sensors, catering to various kinds of applications. The following diagram would give you a glimpse of our sensor expertise.

Alongside Sensor Integration, we provide complete engineering services for IoT Applications and our expertise involves everything from connectivity to cloud deployment. If you are interested in knowing our IoT Competencies in detail, feel free to mail us at marcom@pathpartnertech.com or you can directly give us a call.

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