On its last day, the 2017 Sensors Expo and Conference in San Jose, Calif., looked toward the future—with nods both to exploration of the universe and raising up the next generation of engineers.
NASA researcher Dr. Alexander Selhke's opening keynote focused on sensor applications needed to support a mission to Mars. With a crew likely to only see limited time on the planet's surface—10 days at four to six hours a day—he said portable science instruments will be key to success.
Spectrometers with onboard libraries, for example, will allow for speedy identification of the planet's elements. "You'll be taking your laboratory into the field for measurements," Sehlke said.
Wearables and functional fabrics
As an industry, sensors manufacturing is ready to evolve into third and fourth "waves" that consultant Roger Grace, an adviser to the event, said will include “functional fabrics.”
"Wave three is a movement away from silicon as the base material for sensors and using other materials like film, polymer films, or paper," Grace said. They are "two orders of magnitude less expensive per square area than silicon. If you can make it in non-silicon, you will make it in non-silicon because it will keep the price lower."
The fourth wave, Grace said, will weave sensors into smart clothing. "Instead of having a wearable on your wrist, you have a wearable that you wear," he said.
"You don’t know that you’re wearing a sensor, because the sensor mechanism is within the threads that make the T-shirt, and you end up having a T-shirt that you can wear that will end up telling you your physiological condition vis-à-vis things like sweat."
Students win recognition
A final look ahead came via a Future of Engineering session with a panel of educators, followed by the announcement of winners of the Sensors Expo poster contest.
First place went to "Single Chip Mote" by a team from the University of California, Berkeley, which depicted "a wireless sensor node on a single piece of silicon with zero external components." A team from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute won second place with its poster "Towards Adaptive Indoor Environmental Remediation With a Building-Integrated Distributed Wireless Sensor Network Design."
"For engineering students to really understand what an engineer does, before they get their degree and go looking for a job, is critical," said Grace, who moderated the Future of Engineering panel and helped judge the awards.
"The more we can do to expose engineering students to the reality of engineering as it is in products, people (will) get a real sense of, 'Do I really want to do that?'"
Sensors Expo & Conference will return to the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose on June 26-28, 2018.