With all the new sensors available today that either (1) did not exist, (2) had less capabilities and/or (3) were more expensive just a few years ago, innovative engineers should be exploring new ways to use them. One way to do this is sensor specific: with sensor X available at an affordable price, what can I do with it? This can certainly lead to creative answers.
However, with the increasing amount of intelligence and capability of many of the newest sensors, the sensor-specific method may not always be the right one.
As noted in the book, Understanding Smart Sensors, “Realizing the full potential of these new sensors will requires a new approach to identify sensor applications. The list of “sensor” terms serves as a starting point for rethinking the possibilities for smart sensors. Many of the terms are associated with a system and not the sensor portion of the system.”
In most cases, using a term or combination of terms completes a question like, “What do I want to _______? or How can I ________?” For example, in a factory, answering the question, “How can I monitor and communicate a machine’s health?” could have been the starting point for using accelerometers to measure normal verses unusual vibration and wirelessly communicate the results to a remote station or person to minimize damage and prevent excessive downtime. In some cases, the terms, are helpful in posing follow-up questions as well.
The initial answer should address many of the system aspects (capable and affordable microcontroller (MCU), wireless communication technique, perhaps energy harvesting, and of course the sensor or sensors required) that, if they did not exist, would be knock-out factors. This approach can help identify the need for multiple sensors and design techniques such as sensor fusion. I many cases, the missing piece will be the software to implement the final solution.
Rather than say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” answering the right questions could lead to an innovation solution to a problem that could not be solved before and yet was there in plain sight.