Simple or Sentient Sensors: What’s Inside?

For our most recent survey, we asked, “When you use an off-the-shelf sensor assembly, how much functionality is built into it?” We put up various categories that covered levels of sophistication and complexity. Maybe it's just a very simple sensor, and you build all the circuitry to massage the signals. That could include amplification, level shifting, perhaps a multiplexer, and then an ADC — oh, and power supply circuitry, too. At the other end of the spectrum, you could buy a sensor in a- ox that plugs into your computer via USB cable (for example).

This survey drew 124 respondents. Roughly 23% said they just use a bare-bones sensor. About 28% said they add some simple circuitry, like a couple of transistors or perhaps an op-amp. About 22% add more sophisticated circuitry like an ADC and serial interface. And slightly less than 10% toss in an microcontroller unit. So roughly three-quarters of you are doing varying amounts of design and fabrication of real circuitry. Our faith is restored. We know that there is still good amounts of hands-on analog design being done.

And with that second-to-last category, we see that more than one-eighth of the respondents were using very sophisticated versions based on analog front ends. Only one respondent chose “something else.” Maybe that's the one person who just bought an off-the-shelf data acquisition system and plugged in a USB cable — no soldering required.

In our current poll, we take a closer look at your preferences for scopes.

— Brad Albing, Editor-in-Chief, Planet Analog and Integration Nation Circle me on Google+

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3 comments on “Simple or Sentient Sensors: What’s Inside?

  1. RedDerek
    January 11, 2014

    Brad, I missed this poll, but you can add me to the first two categories. One current sensor is a simple pressure transducer to measure pressure differential across an air filter to determine the effectiveness of the filter. Another is converting a dc accelerometer signal into an ac output. The first is minor filtering. The later requires analog multipliers and opamps to keep phasing relative to an input reference, opamp to set gain, opamp for 0 g adjustment and a final opamp for dc offset control. I have not ventured into the conversion into digital recently.

  2. eafpres
    January 12, 2014

    Hi Brad–The poll results are interesting; I think there are some factors behind the answer proilfe:

    1) Repondents here are a biased sample that are analog designers.

    2) There are a large number of existing bare or simple sensors to choose from.  They far outnumber the more integrated options available.

    3) Respondents here are more likely to be doing original design vs. trying to deploy an application (i.e., say more likely to be circuit designres than process engineers).

    I think that the long-term trend will be driven by the expansion of IoT and will thus tend towards more integration to quickly (as you note–sometimes w/out any solder) deploy networked sensor applications.

  3. jkvasan
    January 24, 2014

    Brad, I didn't miss the poll. I voted for the third option. We need a little bit of logic there. This helps in processing in digital domain leaving overall Analog processing to the experts – chip makers.

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