The Sensors editors' Best of Sensors Expo awards 2006 included five Bronze-level winners in the categories of networking and communications, sensor components, data acquisition, and sensors. These products represent some interesting and important trends in those areas. See here.
A Component for Gas Detection
What excites us about IRSource from Axetris (the microsystems division of Leister Technologies, LLC) is its potential to enable the growing number of safety and environmental applications requiring gas sensors. The product is what its name implies, but unlike common filament bulb products, it is a compact, thin-film, structure with no moving parts that offers low thermal mass, low power consumption, and fast modulation.
Axetris says IRSource will take sophisticated laboratory gas detection to handheld devices, allowing instant results that will be particularly useful for applications such as emergency and military. Additionally, contributing editor Ed Ramsden points out that these miniature, self-contained sources will probably enable new applications in spectroscopy on the basis of cost and size.
Data Logging Via USB or CompactFlash
Use of the computer industry's universal serial bus (USB) is a trend in data acquisition, and a number of products, such as NI's CompactDAQ, one of this year's Gold winners, and Fiberbyte's USB-inSync have taken advantage of it. Measurement Computing's USB-5203 does, too, and also incorporates other particularly useful features. It's a low-cost, 8-channel temperature measurement module that supports four sensor types (thermocouples, RTDs, thermistors, and semiconductor devices). "What I like about this is that it accepts four types of temperature sensors and automatically linearizes their data according to sensor type. I also admire its compact size," says executive editor Stephanie Henkel. But we also admire its ability to store data on CompactFlash or deliver it direct to a PC via USB, which, senior editor Melanie Martella points out, makes it nicely adaptable.
MCU-Independent ZigBee Communications
Whereas other ZigBee radios are married to particular microcontrollers, Ember Corp.'s Ember EM260 network processor lets OEMs embed ZigBee wireless networking capabilities into their products using any number of microcontrollers from STMicroelectronics, Amtel, Texas Instruments and others. We like this aspect very much. The EM260 is designed specifically for use with EmberZNet, Ember's ZigBee-compliant sensor mesh networking software.
Novel Sensor Designs
Ashcroft, Inc.'s Xmitr with LZT Sensor is a pressure gauge that works (with a noncontact displacement sensor) by measuring the tip travel of a Bourdon tube. "The goal was to combine a non-contact displacement sensor and pressure gauge into an instrument that would cost less to manufacture," says Ashcroft. The company also points out that, at $99, it is less expensive than equally capable instruments by at least a factor of two. I agree with Stephanie Henkel's observation that this is a very clever design, "to measure pressure and displacement with one little device." And, she adds, "there's a clear need for it."
The Raztec Series 3 Hall Effect Current Transducer from Raztec Ltd. of New Zealand detects current and interfaces directly to a microcontroller's I/O port. "While current sensors have been around since the dawn of time, a component-level device with integrated ADC and digital serial interface is novel," says Ramsden.