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tiny barometer (foreground)...

This tiny barometer (foreground) can be manufactured by the dozens on a single wafer of silicon (background).

Credit: NSF Engineering Research Center for Wireless Integrated MiicroSystems, University of Michigan

Sensor Applications: Industry & Commerce
From disk brakes to disk drives, American industry relies on sensors in its products and in its factories. By incorporating new sensor technologies, manufacturers can bring new capabilities to their products while improving performance and efficiency. Meanwhile, factory sensors help keep American industry competitive by improving product quality and reducing downtime.
Sensors on the Road

Air bag deployment...
Air bag deployment is controlled by precise but inexpensive accelerometers–sensors that detect sudden impacts. The devices are among the most widely used Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS).

Credit: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
In today’s automobiles, rotation sensors feed data from all four wheels to antilock brake and traction control systems. Combustion and antiknock sensors help engine computers adjust the fuel mixture for efficient, clean burning even as loads and conditions change. Impact-sensing accelerometers can subtly grade the severity of a collision, allowing the car’s airbags to deploy with minimal appropriate force.

The number of sensing devices per car has doubled in the past few years, and continues to rise as sophisticated but inexpensive sensors become more available. Engineers like Wayne State University’s Le Yi Wang help automobile designers make optimal use of sensor data. Yang is studying methods for combining information from multiple sensors to effectively control engines and powertrains, even when individual sensors supply imperfect data.

Inventory From Afar

Radio Frequency Identification tags (inset) tied to runners' shoelaces accurately record the time each contestant crosses the start and finish lines, even in a crowd.

Credit: ChampionChip World ®
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) stands among the fastest-proliferating sensor technologies. RFID systems combine electromagnetic sensing with radio communications. RFID tags and interrogators can be used to track inventory in a warehouse or collect tolls from moving cars. Texas Instruments equips new semiconductor fabrication lines with RF interrogators, and places ID tags on each wafer carrier. Every processing step a wafer goes through can now be recorded in a central database while minimizing human handling and associated contamination.

Researchers like Vivek Subramanian, at UC-Berkeley, are working on methods to reduce the cost and increase the capabilities of RFID tags. They foresee the day when electronic tags replace barcodes in everyday commerce.

Sensors at School

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hari Balakrishnan, Seth Teller, Erik Demaine and Michael Stonebraker have big plans. They’re combining global positioning (GPS), RF tagging and ultrasound beacons in a major effort to “activate” the MIT campus. They envision using the system for everything from monitoring and maintaining the physical plant, to inventorying library assets, to helping visitors find their way around the campus.

Next: Sensor Applications: Health

The Sensor Revolution A Special Report