Think about some of the hottest new gadgets to hit the market in the last few years. Driverless cars and the FitBit are probably some of the first to come to mind. Praised for their efficiency and integrative cloud capabilities, these products share one common piece of hardware: the sensor.
Sensor technology is growing increasingly popular in both the industrial and consumer sectors and across industries. From medical and automotive to gaming and advertising, many companies are looking to use sensors to push their brands into the digital age.
Just last week, Intel announced that it would be embedding sensors in products as unexpected as snowboards and hardhats. PASCO Scientific, a science education company serving universities, also just released a new pH and temperature sensor that could wirelessly connect to computers, and Ford rolled out its compact LiDAR software for its driverless cars.
Many companies are attracted to sensors for their ability to sensitively detect both user and machine activity and translate that activity into precise, valuable data. With better data comes better knowledge of the consumer, and in turn, better products. This competitive edge changes the way companies understand the consumer, and the way in which we as consumers relate to commodities. Sensors have revolutionized the customer experience to put us at the very center of a product.
"It's a much easier sell to the consumer if the product molds itself to their specific needs," said Aron Zev Kain, Founder and Senior VP at BH Sensors in Pomona, New York. "That has really been the modus operandi of all consumer products, but sensors are taking it to the next level." Instead of the consumer acclimating to fit the product, the product now must detect and address our particular needs.
One of the best examples of this is in athletic wear, such as the smart sock from Sensoria Fitness. Through textile sensors that detect pressure points in the foot and conductive fibers that connect the sensors to the Sensoria app, athletes can learn to adjust their running according to their specifically harmful habit, thereby decreasing injuries.
On the industrial level, sensors are making companies more efficient and aware of their performances from a remote position. Some of BH Sensors' most impactful products are pressure sensors on water tanks, load sensors on heavy duty construction vehicles, and proximity sensors on Navy aircraft carriers.
"What people have been after is remote monitoring--operating machinery through 'the cloud.' If I have a factory in China and I'm sitting here in New York, and I want to know how my pressure cooker is doing overseas, a sensor on my pressure cooker that is then connected to the Internet lets me type in an IP address and know information about my machinery. This avoids me getting on a plane and checking on the pressure cooker," Kain explained. When sensors are connected to the Internet, they can save companies enormous amounts of operating costs.
Beyond revolutionizing industrial and consumer markets, sensors are changing the job landscape as well. Since sensors are generally incorporated into other machines or products, engineers must not only be able to work on the sensor, but they also must have expertise in whatever the sensor is supposed to detect.
"Engineers now have to have a broad background, but the ability to specialize in one area. Companies aren't only going to look at a pressure sensor engineer--the engineer has to know about materials, microprocessor coding and the Internet," said Kain.
GE ran into this problem in 2013 when it was attempting to create a uniform architecture and software base for all of its products using sensors. According to an article from Harvard Business Review, the company ended up hiring a new team of 350 employees centrally located in San Ramona, California--the GE Software Headquarters. Only 2% of the new team was from within the company, indicating the necessary expertise and diverse knowledge required to work with sensor technology.
The emergence of this unique employment opportunity is good news for those looking to dive headfirst into a fast-moving revolution taking place globally and spanning industries. As sensor technology continues to expand and develop, some innovations may be unpredictable, but one thing is for sure: they will change everything.
Makena Owens contributed to this article.