The Evolution of Sensor-Driven Technology

Sensors are electronic components and as their capabilities have advanced, these small components have completely redefined what physical products and devices can achieve. The evolution of sensor technology in recent years has radically increased the level of intelligence that can be built and engineered into products. This, in turn, has revolutionised numerous aspects of day-to-day life, making countless activities (from travel, to fitness, to turning on lights) not only easier but often safer and more efficient. Consumer and industrial audiences now readily await reports of the latest revelation in this field, eager to hear what new metric can be understood, monitored, quantified, and reported on. Beyond this, consumers are even more interested in what the product bringing this technology into their hands might look like. From detecting air quality to monitoring blood flow from outside the body, the variety of data that can be captured through products is constantly evolving. As sensor intelligence continues to develop, new product opportunities will arise.

How Small Components Can Deliver Significant Impact 

Sensors can provide ever more accurate information about our physical and mental health and about changes and shifts in our environment. When purposed in this way, sensor-based technologies can be utilised to influence decision-making and to help us take actions that serve our individual and planetary health. Within the medical device sector, fellow Wales-based company, Afon Technology are harnessing this to create a simpler approach to glucose monitoring. Afon Technology are doing this by developing a non-invasive, wearable blood glucose monitor.

Not only is the ability to collect real-time data important, but self-learning sensors will take this further. From a healthcare perspective, the ability to monitor trends and patterns over time, and therefore detect changes in certain metrics, will help to realise the vision of preventative healthcare. It will also provide more autonomy to individuals. The data gathered through sensor-based medical devices will increase the efficiency of diagnosis and aid treatment planning. In this way, we can understand sensors as vehicles, delivering vital information. However, through the design of sensor-based products, the user’s full journey must be considered. In particular what happens after data delivery? The product should make it easy and intuitive for the user to act or respond to the information signalled through the sensor.

From a Product Perspective

Understanding the design decisions involved in creating sensor-based products can help maximise the potential impact of the product when in the user’s hand. So, how do sensors work? Sensors provide information; responding to an external stimulus by taking an input signal and converting it into an output that is understandable or readable to a user.

Here are just a few questions that might affect the process of sensor selection and development within a product…

  1. Based on where the product will be used, what kind of output signal will communicate most effectively with the user? Visual, haptic, audible?
  2. How accurate or precise does the information provided need to be?
  3. How quickly or regularly does information need to be reported to the user?
  4. How sensitive should the selected sensor be?
  5. How will the sensor selected impact on the product’s unit cost?

Adapting the Development Process to Create Successful Sensor-based Products

A key reason that sensors have become frequent features in technology products is due to the fact that they can be effectively integrated. Here, the human nervous system can be turned to for inspiration. Our nervous system is an in-built, highly sophisticated sensor system that has evolved to perform countless tasks and process signals with imperceptible speed and optimal energy consumption. If we understand the human nervous system as an example of a well-optimised machine, and one that has evolved throughout history, we can carry these learnings into product development strategy.

Focussing closely on technical feasibility at the outset of a project to design a sensor-driven device can help to identify the most suitable components (for example, lidar, pressure sensors, accelerometers) based on both performance and usability requirements. This can have a significant impact on the subsequent development of the product; if the project begins with a validated, sound assessment of the most effective technology, attention in the development process can become highly focussed on developing the form, mechanical housing and aesthetics in a way that will optimise the performance of the chosen components.

As the future of sectors such as wearable tech and diagnostic devices continue to advance and overlap (think, embedding sensors within clothing to monitor vitals), there will be a heightened focus on how technological components can be thoughtfully and almost unnoticeably woven into physical products.

Get in touch, to discuss how a technical feasibility work package could help define the best technology to deliver new data or insights to users.




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