The Internet of Things (IoT) — the network of physical objects embedded with connected networks of sensors — is one of the primary developments of the digital age. It provides fluent connectivity within society and allows people worldwide to live and work more comfortably and efficiently, automating mundane tasks and offering valuable performance insights to optimise and streamline business operations.
As a result, digitisation is ramping up, with the global market for digital transformation expected to more than double between 2020 and 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.5%. And as we rely on connected devices to monitor and regulate an increasing number of critical functions, it is all the more vital that IoT-enabled devices have access to accurate, real-time data to ensure safe and effective operation. Consequently, the market for IoT sensors is predicted to register a CAGR of 24.05% between 2021 and 2026.
IoT sensors provide data for people and machines alike to virtually access and interpret, allowing for more accurate monitoring of equipment performance and energy efficiency. So, what role do sensors play within IoT devices — and what lies ahead for the applications of sensor technology within the IoT market?
Creating a fully integrated world with IoT sensors
The IoT has made it possible to connect everyday objects to the internet. As a result, in the modern world, most people are constantly surrounded by networks of IoT sensors collecting data from almost all entities — from smart fridges to entire office buildings. But whilst the vast majority of IoT designs are for software apps, the hardware behind these apps — the processors, sensors and communications chips — makes it all possible.
Sensor technology makes up the backbone of the IoT that is driving digital transformation within almost every sector. An IoT sensor is a device designed to detect specific changes within its physical environment — such as temperature, proximity, light or speed — and communicate this information as data to the cloud via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, satellite or ethernet connection. It can then be processed by software and relayed in a user-friendly way.
These smart devices have been integral to electronics for decades, used for accurate monitoring and control in various sensitive environments, including industrial, military and healthcare settings. Now, wireless sensors are all around us and contribute to several core functions across a range of industries.
The information and insights provided by IoT sensors aid the advancement of new technology and fuel the proliferation of consumer and industrial electronics. For example, sensor technology provides the foundational data required to develop industrial robotics and artificial intelligence technologies that are integral to many modern manufacturing processes. And IoT technology is now mainstream thanks to wearable technology such as smart watches, which have built-in sensors to detect biometric data such as heart rates and sleeping patterns.
Enabling innovation with IoT sensor technology
Through facilitating the miniaturisation, integration and enhanced functionality of devices, the possible applications of IoT sensors are unbound. From predictive maintenance and operational efficiency to security and process automation, the next generation of sensor technology has the potential to transform multiple industries. And as the cost of IoT sensors steadily decreases, the number of available internet-connected devices — from cars to industrial robotics and home appliances — will rapidly grow.
For example, medical sensors already play a critical role in the safe operation of medical devices. The coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for further technological innovation within medical electronics manufacturing, and we expect significant developments will continue in this field. Wearable technology developers at Apple are working on glucose and blood pressure sensors that could aid in the monitoring of conditions such as diabetes. Researchers at FaceBit have even developed a lightweight, reusable sensor that tells users how well their face mask is working by detecting pressure changes and breathing rate.
And as global warming continues to threaten the integrity of our ecosystems, IoT sensor manufacturers will also play a crucial part in climate action. Digitisation is key to developing new ways to monitor the impact of pollution on public health, equipping wearable devices with sensors that can detect noise, heat and airborne pollutants from individuals’ surroundings. Plus, IoT sensors are deployed in various applications worldwide to contribute to environmental research, saving valuable time and removing the need for human intervention in dangerous settings.
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