Leadership Top Stories

How Smart Sensors Are Changing Our World

The Limitless Possibilities of Sensor Technology

[By Dr. Teresa Pace]

smart-sensorsMost people have heard of smart sensors, but may not realize how prevalent they are in every aspect of our lives today and how they continue to be advanced and leveraged to become even more embedded into our very existence. A sensor is a device that detects or ‘senses’ a change in something and provides output information about the change. The data collected from a sensor is processed, analyzed, and ultimately interpreted by a person, computer, or other device to formulate decisions, make choices, and react. A smart sensor contains built in computational resources to process data and present it in a more accurate, efficient, and informative way. Various types of sensors are associated with many different physical phenomena including sound, fluids, electromagnetic light, temperature, humidity, position and chemicals.

Smart sensors are employed in areas such as transportation, aerospace and defense, food and agriculture, medical and healthcare, environmental safety, and homeland and personal security. Smart sensors are an essential element of the Internet of Things, a network of interconnected devices which allows  communication between objects such as cars, cellphones, watches, alarm clocks, stereo systems, televisions, satellites, thermostats, lights, washing machines, health monitors, security cameras, and so many more.

Here are just a few applications:

» Transportation 

Smart image sensors are employed in the transportation community as part of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) that focus on improving driver safety in order to reduce the number and severity of vehicle crashes. A backup camera on cars is one example. Another would be an infrared camera display (which can provide imagery during the day or night) allowing the driver to see and avoid objects in the road at night such as deer, people, or other debris. 

» Aerospace, Defense and Security

In aerospace and defense, smart image sensors can detect suspicious activity or flag when the activity is occurring. Smart sensors can be

used to detect hidden bombs by imaging through clothing, suitcases, and other shielding materials. Smart chemical and biological sensors can detect pathogens in the air, setting off alarms and quickly alerting authorities for rapid response and containment. The battlefield of the future requires advanced sensors on almost every platform with connectivity and communication capabilities across them all. Every drone; robot; air-water and ground-vehicle; and warfighter themselves must be equipped with advanced sensors for providing enhanced performance such as detecting and responding to threats at much longer and safer distances, throughout all kinds of challenging weather and battlefield conditions including dust, fog, rain, darkness, and rapidly changing lighting. 

» Food and Agriculture

Smart chemical and biological sensors are critical in the food and agriculture industry by accurately detecting food spoilage and contamination as well as measuring water quality. Smart sensors can detect food pathogens automatically and therefore dramatically reduce sickness hospitalization, and death.  Other types of smart sensors can monitor crop conditions on a real-time basis to assess crop stress from water and disease as well as determine yields.

» Medical and Health Care

The medical and healthcare communities are benefitting from the advancement of smart sensors.  Advanced chemical and biological sensors can be used to detect diabetic issues instantly as well as detect skin cancer earlier and more easily. Advanced sensors worn on the wrist can use the body’s perspiration to instantaneously detect a diabetic attack and provide a signal to inject the proper amount of medication into a patient real-time. Advanced imagers can perform daily skin cancer screenings while in the shower, in locations often overlooked, to spot anomalies resulting in earlier detection and treatment.  Advanced imagers can sense heat emanating from a wound and provide a 3D image at the point of care that can identify infection while simultaneously imaging beneath skin layers to evaluate vein health.

» Endless Possibilities

The list goes on, like integrated detection systems using smart sensors that can identify and respond to hazards early to improve and strengthen environmental safety. These are just a few examples of the vast ability for smart sensors to improve our lives and quality of living all across the globe. 

As a final example, one that I find incredibly interesting is that of a reprogrammable smart sensor (smaller than a dime) that was recently placed underneath the skin of a person’s hand to allow her to open her car and enter her home without keys. If placing something under your skin sounds too invasive for you, smart sensor tattoos are also being prototyped. The possibilities to consider for the future are endless and ICAMR, located in Osceola county, is helping to bridge the gap between these technological breakthroughs and affordable manufacturing solutions. 

teresa-pace-1610-36-editDr. Teresa Pace has over 25 years’ experience in the sensors industry and is currently the Director of Federal and State Programs at ICAMR. She received her BS EE at WSU and her PhD EE at Penn State.  She has 14 patents and written over 55 scholarly articles.teresa.pace@ucf.eduicamr.net

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