Thursday, January 26, 2006

Advanced Sensing – Critical technology for many applications

Sensors are advancing thanks to achievements in the MEMs realm. Multifunctional sensors are now possible due to improvements in silicon, microprocessor technology, and communications. In this article the author describes the technology behind a MEMS-based sensor system.

Advanced sensors require ultra pure materials and ultra clean manufacturing combined with integrated electronic devices using surface mount technology. These sensors have built-in intelligence and are integrated with multifunctional sensors, and sometimes integrated with actuators. Advanced sensors impact manufacturing, avionics, optics, space satellites, biotechnology and more.

There are numerous types of advanced sensors. Inertial sensors for navigation include laser gyros, fiber optic gyros, and micro accelerometers. Piezoresistive microsensors use micro surface etching on polysilicon micro structures. Humidity and gas sensors are using polymers as substrates for their temperature and absorption control characteristics. Electronic “Nose” technology is used for measuring toxic chemicals. Enzyme and microbial sensors for food processing and medical testing. MEMs sensors are also used for temperature and magnetic measurements.

The Tifac organization in India developed a strategy paper outlining the technology trends in advanced sensors and offers an overview of the sensors under development today.

NASA pursues advanced sensing in microgravity applications using MEMs rather than electromechanical systems to decrease size, weight, and power consumption.

The MASS (Micro Actuators, Sensors, and Systems) group from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign focuses their research on implementing advanced sensors on polymer substrates rather than silicon since polymer is more conformal. It can be formed to fit as a “skin” or interwoven into other devices.

Virtual Instrumentation plays a key part in the implementation of advanced sensors. The California Energy Commission used LabVIEW to collect data from the use of advanced sensors in engine combustion to reduce NO and CO levels.

The Navy uses LabVIEW and advanced sensors for shipboard monitoring.

Universities use LabVIEW with advanced sensors for educational purposes.

In subsequent posts we’ll look at the details of specific advanced sensors.

Best regards,
Hall T.

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