Sensors' Top 50 Products of 2006

We see a lot of new products over the course of a year, in a variety of venues. From all the new products we heard about in 2006, here's our selection of those that we found the most interesting. You'll find a brief description of the product and some comments on what qualities attracted our attention. If your interest is piqued, please check out the online version of this article, which provides links to the vendors mentioned.

Flexible Position Sensor

MTS Systems Corp., Sensors Div., Cary, NC, offers the flexible C Series magnetostrictive position sensors to provide curvilinear measurements in relevant applications. (919-677-2314, [email protected], www.mts.com)



A flexible version of its Temposonics position sensor, designed for high-volume production. —BG

Rotary Position Hall IC

The MLX90316 programmable Triaxis Hall IC from Melexis Microelectronic Integrated Systems, Concord, NH, measures all 3 magnetic flux density components at a single point. (603-223-2362, www.melexis.com)



Lets you make a very simple and inexpensive absolute rotary position sensor. —BG

Fiber-Optic Readout System

BRR-3500 Series fiber-optic readout systems from Blue Road Research, Gresham, OR, make multidimensional measurements to let you determine damage and strain gradients for any structure in which a fiber-optic sensor can be embedded. (503-667-7772, [email protected], www.bluerr.com)



Enables multidimensional measurements of both static and dynamic faults in structures. —BG

Programmable MEMS Gyroscope

The ADIS16250 from Analog Devices Inc., Norwood, MA, is a MEMS gyroscope that lets you scale the sensitivity from ±80°/s to ±320°/s and has programmable features accessible via SPI. (800-262-5643, www.analog.com)



Loved the scalable sensitivity and programmable features. —MM

Mesh Networking System

SmartMesh from Dust Networks, Berkeley, CA, is a wireless mesh networking platform optimized for low data-rate sensor networking in building automation, industrial monitoring, and security. (866-289-3878, [email protected], www.dustnetworks.com)



Provides a good combination of features, including very low power consumption and promise of 99.99% reliability. —BG

Magnetic Sensor

The HMC1043 from Honeywell SSEC, Minneapolis, MN, is a 3 × 3 × 1.2 mm device that incorporates 3 magnetoresistive sensors for low-field magnetic sensing in tilt-compensated compassing applications. (800-323-8295, intl. 763-954-2474, www.magneticsensors.com)



Honeywell keeps making smaller and smaller MR magnetic sensors. This one should open up a few more applications. —BG

Hybrid Ultrasonic Flowmeter

The Fuji Electric Duosonics from TTI Instruments, Williston, VT, is a noninvasive, clamp-on ultrasonic flowmeter that automatically switches between pulse Doppler and transit time technologies. (800-235-8367, [email protected], www.ttiglobal.com)



I particularly liked this clamp-on flowmeter's ability to change from pulse Doppler to transit time and back, depending on what conditions it senses in the pipe. —SH

Safety Laser Scanners

The S3000 Professional CMS (contour measurement and safety) scanner from SICK Inc., Minneapolis, MN, is for safety and mobile vehicle applications. (800-325-7425, [email protected], www.sickusa.com)

Mobile robots use these laser scanners. The increased speed and range should enable better performance for these devices. —MM

Wireless Multigas Monitor

RAE Systems Inc., San Jose, CA, offers the AreaRAE Responder and RAELink 2-E ATEX-certified wireless multigas monitor. The AreaRAE Responder supports up to 5 simultaneous gas sensors. The RAELink 2-E is the companion wireless gateway. (408-952-8200, [email protected], www.raesystems.com)



This system's designed for the EU market, but there's no reason it couldn't detect five gases simultaneously this side of the Atlantic. Its usefulness needs no explanation. —SH

Seismic IC

The CS5373A from Cirrus Logic Inc., Austin, TX, integrates the company's CS4373A seismic test DAC and its CS5371 ΔΣ modulator, allowing designers to implement smaller and lighter seismic acquisition systems. (800-888-5016, www.cirrus.com)

The combination of integration and small size may enable more and better quality seismic data gathering. —MM

Mesh Sensor Networking

Accsense Inc., Santa Barbara, CA, offers a line of wireless sensor Pods that measure ambient temperature, humidity, light, noise, and vibration and automatically form a secure, self-healing mesh network with a wireless range of up to 4000 ft. (866-670-3500, [email protected], www.accsense.com)



This nifty device makes it easy to collect and send to the Internet data on all manner of real-world ambient conditions. —SH

Pressure Sensors

Apogee Technology Inc., Norwood, MA, offers the Sensilica family of MEMS-based piezoresistive pressure sensors that use a single-piece all-silicon design rather than the larger glass/silicon 2-piece design currently available. (781-551-9450, [email protected], www.apogeemems.com)



Clever design and manufacturing techniques enable smaller, less expensive option for pressure sensing. —BG

Small Pressure Sensor

Designed for consumer electronics, the SMD500 micromachined pressure sensor from Bosch Sensortec, Reutlingen, Germany, has a monocrystalline membrane and is supplied in a ceramic housing in a 5 × 5 × 1.6 mm LCC package. (+49 7121-3535-900, www.bosch-sensortec.com)



I can't get over how small this thing is. —MM

Visual/Thermal Security Camera

The Thermal-Eye 2400xp from L-3 Communications Infrared Products, Dallas, TX, is a dual-sensor thermal imaging and visual camera for military, law enforcement, executive security, covert operations, and other security applications. (972-528-1300, www.l-3com.com)

I liked the combination of visual and thermal imaging. —MM

MEMS Gyroscope

The VSG-4 MEMS vibrating-structure gyroscope from Silicon Sensing Systems Ltd., Plymouth, U.K., uses a tiny vibrating silicon ring to detect angular velocity through the Coriolis effect. (+44-1752-723330, www.siliconsensing.com)



Better motion sensors just never go out of style. —MM

Wireless Thermocouple Sensor

The TC-Link from MicroStrain Inc., Williston, VT, is a ZigBee-compliant wireless thermocouple node designed for integration with wireless sensor networks. (802-862-6629, [email protected], www.microstrain.com)



Offers ZigBee support, accepts multiple thermocouple types, and supports up to 1000 devices. And, its onboard memory can store up to 1 million data points. —BG

Chemical Warfare Agent Detector

The ChemRAE from RAE Systems Inc., San Jose, CA, is a portable chemical warfare agent detector, available as a stand-alone portable instrument or as a wireless component of the AreaRAE rapid deployment hazardous environment detection platform. (408-952-8200, [email protected], www.raesystems.com)



Open-loop ion mobility spectroscopy in a portable unit with a 30 s detection time. Wow! Toxic gases are on everyone's mind right now, and will stay there. —SH

ZigBee Co-processor

Ember Corp., Boston, MA, offers the EM260 ZigBee co-processor that now has an open source interface, called EZSP, to let you integrate ZigBee networking capabilities using almost any vendor's microcontroller. (617-951-1200, www.ember.com)



Lets OEMs embed wireless networking capabilities into their products using any number of microcontrollers. —BG

USB DA System

CompactDAQ from National Instruments, Austin, TX, is a USB-based modular DA system for sensor and electrical measurements on the bench top, in the field, or on the production line. (800-813-3693, [email protected], www.ni.com/contact)



Truly portable, small in size, and truly elegant, with USB plug-and-play simplicity plus hot-swappable modular instrumentation. —BG

Portable Diagnostic Unit

The HMG 3000 from HYDAC USA, Bethlehem, PA, is a handheld portable unit for measuring jobs in hydraulic and pneumatic systems during commissioning, service, maintenance, troubleshooting, or in test labs. (877-404-9322, www.hydacusa.com)



It is good to see new sensor technology being developed for the pneumatics and hydraulics industries, where failure can be disastrous. This will facilitate setup, maintenance, and troubleshooting. Clever! —SH

USB Temperature Logger

The USB-5203 from Measurement Computing Corp., Middleboro, MA, is an 8-channel module that logs data from thermocouples, RTDs, thermistors, and semiconductor temperature sensors to Compact Flash cards and lets you connect to a PC via USB. (508-946-5100, www.measurementcomputing.com)



Accepts four types of temperature sensors and automatically linearizes their data. Data storage capabilities are adaptable to Compact Flash, or to a PC via USB. —BG

Packet Sniffer/Protocol Analyzer

The FTS4ZB from Frontline Test Systems Inc., Charlottesville, VA, is an IEEE 802.15.4/ZigBee packet sniffer and protocol analyzer for real-time debugging and verification. (800-359-8570, [email protected], www.fte.com)

This kind of higher-level analysis tool is vital to the successful implementation of wireless sensor networks. —MM

Extended-Range Sensors

Steelface sensors from Balluff Inc., Florence, KY, can detect all metals at virtually the same sensing distance and have 2–3 times the sensing range of standard inductive proximity sensors. (800-543-8390, www.balluff.com)



Represents the latest technological advance in inductive sensing. —MM

Electronic Compass

The Revolution GS from True North Technologies LLC, Maynard, MA, is a strap-down electronic compass that combines a precision 3-axis solid-state magnetometer, 2 angular rate gyros, and a dual-axis electrolytic tilt sensor. (978-897-5400, www.tntc.com)



So much in something so compact! I especially admired the built-in filters for pitch and roll. That's engineering that thinks ahead. —SH

Rotational Rate Sensor

The GG1178 angular rate sensor from Honeywell SSEC, Minneapolis, MN, combines a MEMS sensing element and a CMOS ASIC in a ceramic package and is designed for low-cost inertial measurement units for advanced GPS-assisted navigation systems. (800-323-8295, www.pressuresensing.com)



Sensors such as these can really help GPS-assisted navigation by providing corrective position information. —MM

Wireless Sensor Software Platform

MoteWorks from Crossbow Technology Inc., San Jose, CA, is an open, standards-based integrated software platform that allows device manufacturers to integrate wireless sensor network capabilities into their products. (408-965-3300, [email protected], www.xbow.com)



The first platform known to address all three levels of wireless sensor networks. —BG

Integrated Motion Sensor

The iSensor ADIS16201 from Analog Devices Inc., Norwood, MA, combines a ±1.7 g ADXL203 2-axis accelerometer, a digital temperature sensor, power management circuitry, and embedded firmware. (800-262-5643, www.analog.com)



I was impressed by this level of integration and the possibilities it opens up for mobile applications. —MM

Trace Chemical Agent Detector

The SAW MiniCAD mk II detector from MSA, Pittsburgh, PA, is a personal, lightweight, solid-state chemical warfare agent detector for simultaneous detection of trace levels of nerve (G) and blister (H) agents. (800-672-2222, www.msanet.com)



Should come in handy for first responders. —MM

Water Quality Analyzer

The WaterPOINT 870 from Sensicore, Ann Arbor, MI, uses a lab-on-chip system to measure 14 water quality parameters on a single test sample in 4 min. (877-528-6333, [email protected], www.sensicore.com)



The ability to measure so many water quality parameters quickly and easily is very slick indeed. —MM

Programmable Signal Conditioning

Psylotech LLC, Glenview, IL, offers multi-range sensors where a high-precision window can be moved within a wide measurement range, addressing the conflict between high resolution and wide range. (312-451-9616, www.psylotech.com)



The product allows (for example) a load cell that can be electronically adjusted to give accurate force readings over three orders of magnitude. —BG

Weather Station

The PB100 ultrasonic WeatherStation from Airmar Technology Corp., Milford, NH, calculates apparent wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, air temperature, RH, dew point, and wind chill temperature. (603-673-9570, [email protected], www.airmar.com)



It's small and highly capable, able to measure 7 weather parameters without add-ons. —BG

Wireless Sensor Networking System

The Sensicast Wireless Advantage from Sensicast Systems Inc., Needham, MA, integrates sensors, software, and mesh networking devices, through its SensiNet mesh networking technology, to allow plant/building managers to quickly deploy sensors. (781-453-2555, [email protected], www.sensicast.com)



Wireless Advantage takes a lot of the mystery and headache out of setting up a plant-wide mesh network. Basically, just pop in the wireless nodes that collect sensor data. —SH

RF Test Instruments

Keithley Instruments Inc., Cleveland, OH, offers the Model 2910 RF vector signal generator for RF design, development, and manufacturing. The device uses software to adapt as test requirements change and has a software-defined radio architecture. (800-688-9951, [email protected], www.keithley.com)



Wireless communications are becoming more important, requiring updated test equipment. The software-defined radio architecture adds tremendous flexibility. —MM

Strain Transducer

The BDI strain transducer from Bridge Diagnostics Inc., Boulder, CO, is designed to measure strain on bridges, buildings, cranes, and other civil structures and can be installed within minutes on steel, concrete, timber, and FRP members. (303-494-3230, www.bridgetest.com)



The sorry state of this country's infrastructure cries out for help. The ease with which this strain gauge can be installed on structures and heavy equipment appeals to me. —SH

IR Source

The IRSource from Axetris, Leister Process Technologies, Sarnen, Switzerland, is a micromachined, electrically modulated thermal emitter for gas sensing applications. The thin-film structure has no moving parts. (+41 41-662-74-74, [email protected], www.axetris.com)



These miniature self-contained sources will probably enable a few new applications in spectroscopy on the basis of cost and size. —BG

E-Field Sensing Device

The MC34940 from Freescale Semiconductor Inc., Tempe, AZ, generates a low-level electric field and detects changes in that field caused by the presence or absence of objects. (800-521-6274, [email protected], www.freescale.com)



Steps up Freescale's previous e-field sensors with more inputs. Multichannel packaging makes it less expensive and easier to use. —BG

Wireless Force Measurement System

The Wireless ELF system from Tekscan Inc., Boston, MA, lets you capture and store force measurement data from up to 200 ft. away. (800-248-3669, www.tekscan.com)



The impressive FlexiForce sensor becomes even more impressive, and eminently usable, with wireless communication capabilities. —BG

Multithreat Detection System

The SAFESITE multithreat detection system from MSA, Pittsburgh, PA, monitors, detects, and communicates the presence of up to 6 potential threats, including chemical warfare agents, gamma radiation, VOCs, toxic industrial chemicals, combustible gas, and oxygen deficiency and enrichment. (800-672-4678, www.msagasdetection.com)



With the security situation as it is, the need for these systems isn't going to go away. I found the ability to detect multiple threats very impressive. —MM

Maintenance Software

DEXTER v4.0 condition-based monitoring software from MACSEA Ltd., Stonington, CT, automates monitoring, diagnosis, and prediction of machinery health for any equipment that can be instrumented with sensors. (860-535-3885, www.macsea.com)

Economic pressures result in the need to get the very most out of your machinery. Intelligent condition-based monitoring, such as this software provides, is only going to grow in importance. —MM

Double Sheet Detectors

Pepperl+Fuchs Inc., Twinsburg, OH, offers 18 mm dia. ultrasonic throughbeam sensors designed to identify misfeeds of a variety of media, including paper, cardboard, thin plastic, and foil to protect machinery or avoid waste. (330-486-0001, [email protected], www.am.pepperl-fuchs.com)



Multiple sheet feed can bring down the whole production line. I liked this detector for its ability to ignore printing, colors, and shiny materials. —SH

Energy Harvesting Sensor

The STM250 from EnOcean, Oberhaching, Germany, is a solar-powered RF magnet-contact sensor that incorporates a solar cell energy generator and energy reservoir, a reed contact switch, microprocessor, and a radio transmitter and antenna. (801-652-4960, [email protected], www.enocean.com)



Same clever solar cell/reservoir power system as the STM 100, which won a 2005 Best of Sensors Expo award. This time, the technology is applied to a magnet contact switch. —BG

Linear Position Sensor IC

The iC-ML from iC-Haus GmbH, Bodenheim, Germany, is an integrated magnetic linear position sensor/encoder in a TSSOP20 package. The circuit contains 4 Hall sensors to generate analog sine/cosine signals as well as integrated signal conditioning. (+49-6135-9292-300, [email protected], www.ichaus.com)



Sophisticated position sensing in a very small package. —MM

Triaxial Accelerometer

The SMB365 triaxial MEMS accelerometer from Bosch Sensortec, Reutlingen, Germany, is designed for consumer electronics applications. The 4 × 4 × 1.2 mm sensor has an integrated self-testing function, and a digital communications interface. (+49-7121-3535-900, www.bosch-sensortec.com)



The addition of both self-test and digital communications should help designers. —MM

Pressure Gauge

The XMitr-1 from Ashcroft Inc., Stratford, CT, incorporates a noncontact displacement sensor (from LZT Technology) to measure the tip travel of a Bourdon tube. (800-328-8258, www.ashcroft.com; 909-382-2447, www.lzttechnology.com)



This one little device measures both pressure and displacement—and presents interesting possibilities for sensing position. —BG

Motion Sensor

The G2 AMI601 motion sensor from Aichi Steel Corp., Aichi, Japan, integrates a 3-axis magnetic field sensor and a 3-axis accelerometer, each with controller ICs, in a tiny 5.2 × 6.0 × 1.5 mm package. (+81 052-603-9029, www.aichi-steel.co.jp)



This is unusual among IMUs for its extremely small size. This could enable a flood of new applications.—BG

Wireless Sensor System

The Tmote Invent wireless sensor system from Moteiv Corp., San Francisco, CA, lets you build and install custom wireless sensor applications more easily and cheaply. Software uses the company's distribution of TinyOS. (415-692-0960, www.moteiv.com)



This is one slick platform for whatever sensors you need for your application. Customize! I like that it runs on TinyOS too. —SH

Linear Gauge Sensor

The compact GS-1613 from Ono Sokki Technology Inc., Addison, IL, is a digital linear gauge that uses a linear glass scale and has a measuring range of 13 mm and an accuracy of 0.00004 in. (630-627-9700, [email protected], www.onosokki.net)



What blew my mind, in addition to the amazing variety of properties this digital linear gauge can handle, was its 0.00004 in. accuracy. —SH

Current Transducer

The Series 3 Hall effect current transducer from Raztec (NZ) Ltd., Christchurch, New Zealand, detects current and interfaces directly to a microcontroller's I/O port. (+64 (0)3-982-3490, [email protected], www.raztec.co.nz)



Novel in that it is a component-level device with integrated ADC and digital serial interface. —BG

Wireless Sensor Software

Tendril Service Broker v1.0 from Tendril Inc., Boulder, CO, operates on the EmberZNet 2.0 ZigBee-compliant network stack, allowing you to manage wireless sensor and control networks. (303-951-3105, [email protected], www.tendrilinc.com)

This kind of middleware addresses the real need for better tools to administer wireless sensor networks. —MM

Rugged Sensor

The Solidica Chorus from Solidica Inc., Ann Arbor, MI, is an ultrarugged wireless sensor embedded into a solid piece of metal. (734-222-4680, [email protected], www.solidica.com)



Did we mention that the sensors are embedded into solid metal? Insanely rugged. —MM

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