How Smart Sensor Systems Will Revolutionise the Future
Look around. There’s no doubt that sensors and systems based on sensors have played an insurmountable role in guaranteeing the awareness of our surroundings and in offering security, surveillance, and safety, as well as allowing health and environment monitoring. And one of the most transformative progress in this field of sensors is the development of complex or smart sensor systems. To better appreciate smart sensors and advanced sensory technology, first let us consider the makeup of a regular sensor.
Difference Between a Regular and a Smart Sensor
A sensor refers to a device that converts physical parameters into a usable electrical signal. The conventional integrated sensor has three main parts, including the sensing component (capacitor, photodiode, transistor, resistors, etc.) signal conditioning and processing (linearisation, amplification, filtering and compensation) and lastly the sensor interface (wires, sockets and plugs to communicate the results with other interconnected electronic components).
Smart sensors differ from traditional integrated sensors since they have the added benefit of processing capabilities, due to the onboard microprocessor. Hence, the sensing signal passes through microprocessor where processing takes place, and a more informative output is given to the end user. The main principle of smart sensors is that combining sensor technology with silicon microprocessors not only offers customised outputs and interpretive power but also considerably improves sensor system capabilities and performance.
A World of Possibilities
One major effect of smart sensor technology is that it ensures improved integrity and reliability of results. Intelligent features like self-calibration, compensated measurements and self-healing can be added at the main sensor level. The smart sensor can evaluate its status or health and evaluate even the legitimacy of processed data. Overall, the sensor and microprocessor combination allows for the creation of a highly adaptable system.
Smart sensors will, therefore, have four main features including; an onboard CPU, small size, wireless and low cost. The following write-up looks at the effect of smart sensor technology in a few selected fields and tries to project what the technology will be like in future. It is important to note that smart sensors are largely developed to tell users crucial details so as to improve decision making while being as non-intrusive as possible.
1. Smart Sensors in Medicine
Besides the common wearable technology to monitor your health, advances in smart sensor technology will lead to the development of a working “ingestible”. These are smart pills that will have advanced capabilities further than the normal medicine. The development in this particular area focuses on two main functions: diagnostic imaging and wireless health monitoring.
Wireless health monitoring
Imagine getting a text notification that your mom forgot to swallow her compulsory diabetes pill. That is the future of smart sensory technology in medicine. Pill ingestion systems to help monitor patient are already sanctioned and extensively tested.
For instance, Proteus Digital Health recently developed an ingestion system comprising of a pill, sensor patch, and smartphone. Each pill has a tiny sensor coated with magnesium and copper. These digestible metals are safe to consume as they are also present in our natural diets.
Once the patient ingests the pill, the electrolytes in the body activate the sensor. The sensor then sends a signal to an inconspicuous patch placed on the patient’s torso, which then sends the information to a family member’s or caregiver’s smartphone via Bluetooth.
The other notable application of smart sensors in medicine is in taking pictures of our internal body systems. Imagine swallowing one disposable smart pill rather than having an intrusive colonoscopy procedure. One Israeli company known as Given Imaging is advancing this technology. They have created a tiny camera pill that can take clear photos of a patient’s intestinal tract. This simple, non-intrusive test offers the benefit of remotely visualising the colon and gastrointestinal tract to identify polyps and also detect colorectal cancer.
Researchers and scientists are currently working on more impressive uses of smart sensors in technology. For instance, Scripps Health has started developing advanced nano-sensors that can travel in a patient’s blood and transmit signals to a smartphone. The sensors will be able to detect impending heart attacks, or infection and notify the user.
It is clear that there is still more to expect with regards to integration of smart sensors in digital health. Next generation sensors will be able to assist with obesity issues. Ingestible sensors in the form of pills could be used to track a user’s eating habits so as to solve the issue of why some people overeat. The other possibility of ingestible sensors is providing truly personalised medicine based on the genetic data of a patient. That can go a long way in the early diagnosis and management of chronic diseases like cancer.
2. Sensors in Communication and Consumer Electronics
Biometric technology has been in use since the 70s by private companies and governments. Today, national government bodies all over the world are exploring or using biometric technology in identity cards, health cards, passports and visa control. Employers use biometrics for recording attendance and time and also monitoring physical and network access to specific locations.
The future of biometric technology via smart sensors lies in the integration of facial recognition and voice recognition to completely remove the traditional username and password. Future biometrics will be more foolproof and will be able to withstand intruder attacks as the sensors will be more accurate. Thus, the conventional username and password will not be needed anymore as a secondary verification procedure. Natural Language Understanding from Thinking Solutions is one of the leading voice recognition platforms to watch out for in the coming years as a prospective game changer.
A communication environment based on sensors will be the fastest and most reliable in future. This new wireless sensor network can be assessed in various application fields: agriculture (monitoring animals, pest control, water saving irrigation, etc.); industrial automation (production control, process customisation) and smart metering of gas, water and electrical supply for industrial and domestic use. Smart sensors are expected to transform Wi-Fi networks and remove the limitations that had prohibited Wi-Fi from participating more fully in communications.
Machine to Machine communications through smart sensors will revolutionise how people communicate in future, particularly in diverse areas like supply control and telemetry (gas, water, heating, and electricity) home automation, surveillance and industrial automation, etc. Some of the important benefits of the use of next-gen wireless sensor networks will be the convenient energy saving feature that lengthens the lifetime of the device, a broader coverage area via sub-1GH frequency bands as well as more stations connected to one Access Point (roughly 8,191), due to an innovative hierarchical organisation.
Today’s smartphone is an important communication and computing device that also comes equipped with several embedded sensors, like an accelerometer, gyroscope, microphone, camera, GPS and digital compass. These innovative sensors are allowing the use of new applications that cover a broad variety of domains like social networks, healthcare, transportation and safety and environmental monitoring.
Future smartphones will have even more sensors. These sensors will likely be for recognising which activity the user is doing. For instance, the barometer and accelerometer allow the phone to detect when the user is walking and also when climbing stairs and in which direction. Some researchers have even studied air pollution using special sensors in prototype smartphones.
3. Smart Home Sensors
A smart home is all about innovative automation solutions that make the house safer, comfortable and energy efficient. Automation is achieved by interconnecting all lights, doors, windows, appliances and switches to the Internet. The sensors can be able to detect an open window in the house, and the information sent to the central point. The software can check the current weather forecast online, and if a storm is predicted, the system sends a signal to the sensor to close the window automatically. The sensors also allow the homeowners to control their home using their smart phones.
The projected trend in smart homes is the addition of healthcare feature to help in monitoring vulnerable people. Imagine a smart home that has round buttons placed at strategic points to help assist people suffering from memory loss to do a series of tasks during the day. Care providers would simply get a notification via text or email when any part of the prescribed routine is not complete. Integrating smart sensor technology in this way will assist dementia patients through simplifying safe monitoring without causing panic or distress.
4. Smart City Sensors
The goal of any smart city is to link grids of sensors placed around the city with algorithms and analytics for better data collection and analysis to increase efficiency. This kind of dynamic city makes life in a busy metropolitan environment more rewarding and more civil. So far, several cities like Rio, Seoul and Chicago are leading the way in smart sensor technology and have already started showing promising results.
Experts estimate that there will be over 50 billion connected devices by 2020, with most of this activity in smart cities. There will be a need for long range and low-bandwidth communication technology using sensors. The technology will use less power and will be cheap to manufacture. Every developed nation in the world will be able to access this new “airborne internet” (see Facebook’s Internet.org and Google’s Project Loon). The impact of this kind of connection for smart cities will be better protection from theft, due to goods tracking and localisation. The security systems are also going to be more efficient.
5. Smart Sensors in Transportation
The automotive sector pulls in roughly $2 trillion worth of revenue every year. However, it is a big, wasteful, inefficient and dangerous sector. The present application of sensors in transportation has been in detecting crashes and deploying airbags, and this same technology could be used to save people’s lives in future. For instance, smart traffic systems with the capability of disabling a vehicle’s inbuilt control system when on the verge of a head-on-collision or fatal crash can easily be the panacea of the present day road carnages claiming millions every year.
Autonomous vehicles are the future of smart sensors in transportation. Google is on the forefront with its working self-driving car, but Tesla and Apple and also other major car companies are following suit. As such, in future there going to be more saved lives with fewer road accidents, more reclaimed land since autonomous cars do not need more driving space, more saved energy and money, and higher productivity.
6. Sensors in Military and Defence
Sensors have been at the heart of military operations in many countries. They have been invaluable during times of both defence and war. For defence, sensors have been able to provide alerts about impending dangers and for attacking, they have done the important task of locating enemy positions. The current drone programme would not be possible without the use of smart sensors. Also, sensors have also been used to test for biological warfare agents and for running myriads of other security checks.
For a very long time, military forces across the world have strived to conceal their movements and positions from their enemies. However, this will be very hard to do in the future due to projected advances in sensory technology. In effect, stealth technology will get even harder to achieve and will be significantly more expensive to acquire. This imminent revolution will shift the balance of war and profoundly alter the methods and nature of warfare in many ways that many military units have yet to acknowledge or start preparing.
In effect, the future battle space will be one that is open and visible to all. Nevertheless, there are a few viable tactics in such a scenario. Some of these tactics include dispersing forces over large areas, using deception to hide location and using rather than concealment, and finally using more speed even when striking an opponent from known positions.
Likewise, soldiers should expect more advanced uniforms fitted with sophisticated sensors. These uniforms will be able to monitor the vital signs of the user and recommend swift, appropriate actions. The uniform would be woven with fibre optic sensors to offer a complete sensing structure of the whole body. Thus, team leaders and generals will now track their troops after deployment easily.
These are just a few of the many expected innovations linked to smart sensory systems. Nevertheless, fulfilling the capabilities of these systems require further developments in nanotechnology and micro-technology, and also related smart sensing software algorithms. In fact, it is estimated that by 2050, smart sensors, and sensor-based systems will be the workhorse of the world’s economy. The future is bright with innovative and creative smart sensor systems.
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