Foundations > Sensors


Sensors have always been an important part of electronics and are getting even more important as data collection becomes one of the major jobs of embedded systems.

Sensors are hardware devices that produce a measurable response to a change in a physical condition like temperature or pressure. Sensors measure physical data of the parameter to be monitored. The continual analog signal produced by the sensors is digitized by an analog-to-digital converter and sent to controllers for further processing. A sensor node should be small in size, consume extremely low energy, operate in high volumetric densities, be autonomous and operate unattended, and be adaptive to the environment. As wireless sensor nodes are typically very small electronic devices, they can only be equipped with a limited power source of less than 0.5-2 ampere-hour and 1.2-3.7 volts.

Sensors are classified into three categories: passive, omni-directional sensors; passive, narrow-beam sensors; and active sensors. Passive sensors sense the data without actually manipulating the environment by active probing. They are self powered; that is, energy is needed only to amplify their analog signal. Active sensors actively probe the environment, for example, a sonar or radar sensor, and they require continuous energy from a power source. Narrow-beam sensors have a well-defined notion of direction of measurement, similar to a camera. Omni-directional sensors have no notion of direction involved in their measurements.


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