It’s truly an amazing, better put, whirlwind time for the electronics community. So many technologies are whipping around in the wind right now that one might need a dedicated embedded system to keep track of them all.
Each one of those technologies is promoted as being the greatest, the next greatest, the future of whatever, the greatest for at least the next twenty minutes, and all the above. This has got to be one of the greatest periods in history for marketing and PR people, never did they had so many straws to grasp and rant about. Augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, wearable electronics, autonomous vehicles, drones, embedded systems, cybersecurity, medical devices, and, the biggie, the Internet of Things (IoT) are ripe for marketers’ promoting, or at least patting their hands together over.
An interesting thing about electronics designers, particularly those who design components like sensors, is that, at least subconsciously, they are in a pretty good position. Sensors are incredibly versatile components. For example, in some instances, a single pressure sensor could be used in quite a few diverse applications. That same sensor might be modified for special applications by extending or narrowing its measurement range, increasing sensitivity, and/or putting the sensor in a more robust housing for use under rugged conditions.
Another example is wireless sensors. Interfacing to a wireless system for a dedicated task, it is just a sensor with wireless capability. Hook that system up to the internet and, hocus pocus, you now have an IoT sensor.
On that note, with all these techno buzzwords blowing in the wind, it’s a good time to sit down with someone in the know who can at least give some perspective as to where we are. To get that perspective we sat down for a brief discussion about the market in general with Justin R. Bessette, Manager of Wireless Systems and Software Engineering at LORD Sensing MicroStrain.
Mat Dirjish (MD): Lord MicroStrain makes a variety of sensors for a number of varied markets. It appears that all markets are now falling under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT), and those that are not will soon do so. In terms of making dedicated sensors, i.e., load, humidity, temperature, etc., are there any complex challenges involved in sensors for IoT as opposed to traditional applications?
Justin R. Bessette (JRB): LORD MicroStrain thinks of themselves as a long time player in the connected sensing market, now called IoT. More specifically LORD provides products designed for the “Industrial” IoT market (IIoT). The industrial space is particularly difficult for many reasons, including environmental, regulatory, and reliability. These are not typically of great concern from the consumer IoT space. Making reliable sensors that work in these tough environments continues to prove challenging, we have found that only through stringent design, testing, and validation can guarantee our products to work in the IIoT space. As we move forward we aim to push the boundaries of connected sensing beyond into applications such as aerospace, energy exploration, and automation.
MD: When it comes to sensors and their interfacing to networks, be they private or via the web, should sensor makers be concerned with security issues or would that fall with the systems and software designers?
JRB: It is every designer’s responsibility to incorporate best security practices into their design. In the end however it becomes the system owner’s responsibility to understand what they are protecting and why. It is likely that the system designer will be more apt to select components for their system if they are deemed “secure”.
MD: If sensor makers need to get involved with security, on what level and what can they do to improve security?
JRB: Many industries are starting to put together “best practices” SAE, IEE, and ISO are few groups already participating. If your particular market segment doesn’t have a template to follow, designers could try to follow an adjacent market’s best practices.
MD: Is Lord involved or planning to get involved with producing multi-functional sensors (sensor fusion)? If so, what kinds of products are under development that you can speak of?
JRB: LORD is already producing multi-functional sensor systems. LORD MicroStrain’s inertial sensors are fusing many classes of inertial, temperature, and spatial sensors to obtain real-time fixes on position, velocity, and heading. Applications for these include platform stabilization, precision agriculture, antenna pointing, and autonomous navigation.
In addition LORD Corporation’s Electromechanical Systems group has for many years been producing products for active vibration control, propeller balancing, and suspension control. These products collect data from sensors distributed across the vehicle and act on it in real time.
MD: What are, in your opinion, the three most profitable areas for sensor makers to work in; profitable meaning areas providing the most opportunity for innovation as well as financial gain from sales, service, and further development?
JRB: Personally, I feel that the most explosive opportunity for future growth is in the area of augmented reality (AR). As we saw with the Pokémon craze last year, AR is something people are willing to work with. In the industrial space that LORD serves we see many customers that could benefit from AR, increasing productivity, safety, and hopefully profits.
MD: What impedances, if any, do you see sensor makers currently facing? This could be anything from workforce shortages to government interventions, to social issues, or beyond?
JRB: One of the biggest issues is momentum; if something works in industry why change? Early adopters are always key to success. Proving return on investment from early adopters is a key for connected sensing going forward.
MD: What do you hope to discover and learn at Sensors Expo?
JRB: Customers! At LORD we are not simply trying to sell a product. Customers come to us because we will work with them to solve difficult problems. Sensors Expo has always been a place for us to meet early adopters and technology leaders.
About the Author
Mat Dirjish is the Executive Editor of Sensors magazine. Before coming on board, he covered the test and measurement and embedded systems market for Electronic Products Magazine, after which he spent thirteen years covering the electronic components market for EE Product News and Electronic Design magazines. He also has an extensive background in high-end audio/video design, modification, servicing, and installation.