Relying purely on our human senses is not enough; we need to complement them with other forms of collecting information to strengthen our ability to predict the future. With the help of sensors, we can get a better view of what is happening around us.
Since the early 1900s
A sensor is often described as a device, module, or subsystem that collects, converts and in some cases distributes some form of signal, stimulus or data. The signals are displayed on display panels or transmitted electronically for processing by computers in order to provide important information.
Does sensor technology seem new? Electrical sensors has been around since the early 1900s and semiconductor based sensors have been developed extensively since ever since the 1940s. They can gather a lot of data, and with today’s software defined and AI (Artificial Intelligence) based technology, information can be processed and exploited much faster and cover a larger area than ever before.
Different type of sensors
Sensors can be classified as passive or active.
Passive sensors only silently measure parameters from the environment, they do not need to transmit anything in order to collect information, whilst active sensors may transmit as well as receive signals.
Do we need both? The answer is yes.
Signals are converted into information. For example you can unlock your mobile phone with your fingerprint or facial recognition, earn a medal when walking your daily 10 000 steps or get some extra help from your parking sensor when navigating a small parking space.
Sensor technology is not just used in apps, gaming consoles and revolving doors, it´s also about saving lives with automatic braking systems that stop vehicles when they near a pedestrian, as well as sprinkler systems activating automatically if a fire begins in official buildings.
From a micro to macro level, there is no end to the possibilities of sensor innovation.
Military technology for human rights
Sensors are also used in the military industry – to protect people and society from threats, violence, corruption and brutal human rights violations. One example is the struggle against organised crime when authorities use sensors to spot gangs of drug smugglers in the Amazon rainforest.
Another example are pilots flying their fighter jets at 10 000 meters, who need to silently locate threats and be the first one to react in a combat situation to avoid being shot down when protecting their society.
A third example is how sensors protect critical infrastructure and limit economic damage, for instance by detecting the malicious drones causing great concerns for authorities around the world.
There are many potential applications, and both civilian and military sensors will help to carry out the various missions.
How do sensors work
Different sensors have different tasks, and there is no straight answer to that. Let´s have a closer look at radars (an acronym for Radio Detection And Ranging).
For years radar has been used to monitor and forecast the weather - to work out the movement of clouds, locate precipitation, measure its intensity and detect its motion, allowing us to plan for a trip to the beach or take the necessary precautions well ahead of a storm.
Today our sophisticated radars and command and control systems use a whole range of radars in networks to increase situational awareness over land, sea and air. Regardless of whether it is dark or raining, or if a snowstorm is approaching, radars are optimal for reliably detecting airborne, ground or marine vehicles, for example aircraft, vehicles, trains, shipping vessels and cargo.
Radars create waves (signals) which travel in straight lines and when they meet an object such as an aeroplane or a miniature drone they bounce back and return as an echo. That echo and how long it takes to return to the sender provides information about what is going on and gives the operator time to act, for instance to protect a nation’s sovereignty.
Depending on which types of sensors and sensing principles we are talking about, different materials and manufacturing methods are used.
Sensors could for instance be based on electrical components, chemical or biological reactions and reagents, where some examples could be artificial noses or virus detection tests.
Sensors are mostly based on measurements of electronic or electromagnetic signals. The key material is definitely silicon, but other semiconductors such as Gallium-arsenide (GaAs), Gallium-Nitride (GaN) and Indium-antimonide (InSb) are used, and other materials such as plastics and polymers, and metals such as silver, gold, platinum, palladium, rhodium and ceramics are also involved in making sensors.
Saab makes sensors that can be used on the ground, at sea or in the air.
We invest in research and development through partnerships with universities and institutions to anticipate future technologies and always be at the forefront of innovation.
The possible applications of sensors are endless.