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electronics & telecom > Sensors

Sensors

A sensor (also called detector) is a converter that measures a physical quantity and converts it into a signal which can be read by an observer or by an (today mostly electronic) instrument. For example, a mercury-in-glass thermometer converts the measured temperature into expansion and contraction of a liquid which can be read on a calibrated glass tube. A thermocouple converts temperature to an output voltage which can be read by a voltmeter. For accuracy, most sensors are calibrated against known standards.

Sensors are used in everyday objects such as touch-sensitive elevator buttons (tactile sensor) and lamps which dim or brighten by touching the base. There are also innumerable applications for sensors of which most people are never aware. Applications include cars, machines, aerospace, medicine, manufacturing and robotics.

A sensor is a device which receives and responds to a signal when touched. A sensor's sensitivity indicates how much the sensor's output changes when the measured quantity changes. For instance, if the mercury in a thermometer moves 1 cm when the temperature changes by 1 °C, the sensitivity is 1 cm/°C (it is basically the slope Dy/Dx assuming a linear characteristic). Sensors that measure very small changes must have very high sensitivities. Sensors also have an impact on what they measure; for instance, a room temperature thermometer inserted into a hot cup of liquid cools the liquid while the liquid heats the thermometer. Sensors need to be designed to have a small effect on what is measured; making the sensor smaller often improves this and may introduce other advantages. Technological progress allows more and more sensors to be manufactured on a microscopic scale as microsensors using MEMS technology. In most cases, a microsensor reaches a significantly higher speed and sensitivity compared with macroscopic approaches.

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