"Turning the analogue into the digital": infrared sensing 2.0?

Author : Robert Ekström, CEO of JonDeTech

27 September 2018

Credit: Shutterstock

In a connected world flooding with data, there will be many opportunities to achieve a safer, more environmentally-friendly society. But to achieve this, we must use the right technology: it is time for an IR sensor 2.0. Robert Ekström, CEO of JonDeTech, offers his thoughts…

The IR (infrared) sensor is a crucial component in many everyday products, ranging from medical equipment to mobile phones; but the 50-year old technology is in need of an upgrade: the next generation IR sensor 2.0 for IoT will be much thinner than old sensors and cheaper to manufacture.

Today's manufacturing industry is highly dependent on sensors. Whether it is heavy industrial products or smaller consumer products – they are all more or less dependent on well-functioning sensors that control levels, presence, temperatures and pressures. Even in medical technology, sensors are used, for instance, to measure brain and heart activity: consider EEG (electroencephalogram), and ECG (electrocardiogram) tests respectively. And I have named here only two of the many areas of use.

The extensive spread of the IR sensor began in the 1950s, when industries expanded in size and gained a greater degree of automation. In this process, the sensor came to play a major role in the development of the manufacturing industry, as it still does still today with the same principle.

Simply described, such a sensor is required when you need to record and compile the detection and communication of a particular event – and as mentioned earlier, the applications are numerous. A sensor designed to trigger alarms is often called the detector, and is usually activated when exceeding limit values, such as high temperature or low pressure. For other types of IR sensors, consider analogue technologies, such as photodiodes, microphones, radar, sonar and pressure sensors.

Will the new IR sensor 2.0 be the bridge between the analogue and the digital – in an increasingly connected world?

Credit: Shutterstock

In the new connected world that is now emerging, I believe that the new IR sensor has the potential to become the bridge between the analogue and the digital world. And the digitally-connected world is also growing strongly; therefore, it is not a bold assumption that in the near future everything that can be linked up, will be connected.

Security and reliability are of course important components in such a process, but if there is a demand and customer benefit in place, the above will most likely be realised. Plus, as stated earlier, the development is very fast: only ten years ago, there were very few who could predict just how many services would move into smart phones and other consumer electronics. And now there is also a similar development in the area of the IoT, where the actual sensors can play an important role.

Small thermopile sensors that measure heat flow open up new areas of use

The thermopile is a set of series-connected thermo couples that can convert thermal energy into electrical energy. With the help of the new generation of IR sensors, it can also be used for contactless measurement of temperature and heat flow, as well as presence detection. Thanks to new technology, where the thermocouple's lead structure is based on nanotechnology, they are more easily mass produced.

The advantage of the vertical arrangement of thermocouple conductors, perpendicular to the plan configuration, is that the hot and cold bonds are separated by the substrate thickness. This is also why the structure becomes more robust compared to the very thin silicon membrane of conventional thermostatic sensors.

Credit: Shutterstock

Robust, power-efficient, easy and inexpensive to produce

The vertical architecture of IR sensor 2.0 makes it possible to manufacture the new sensors out of flexible plastic, instead of fragile ceramics or silicon, which is used in most other IR sensors on the market. The plastic matrix that contain the nano-threads makes the sensor very robust, meaning it can be moulded according to the customer's wishes. In addition, the sensor can be touched and also used as a haptic pushbutton.

The low energy consumption is another important feature. The total cost of the sensor in question can be divided into three subcategories: raw materials, production, and integration. The raw materials or material bill represent a lower limit for the sensor’s cost. No matter how efficient the production is or how many sensors are produced, the cost per sensor will not be lower than the cost of the raw materials from which the sensor is made.

In addition to raw materials, the sensor must be manufactured and integrated into the buyer's hardware. Given that these sensors are developed for mass production through conventional circuit board technology, the cost of producing the sensor is low in comparison to conventional IR sensors.

I expect the production cost of a sensor could be up to 1/10 per unit in large volumes, compared to a conventional sensor. Today we stand on the threshold of ushering in IR sensor 2.0: the necessary research and development is achieved, and the concept is proven. All that remains is for the market to pick up on this new generation of sensor.

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