When it comes to the Internet of Things, or the network of smart devices, IoT sensors play a critical role. Essentially, these sensors are integrated into devices like smartphones, doorbells, thermostats and even cars and refrigerators to capture important data that can be shared in real time with users.
Increasingly, cities, municipalities and buildings are also using devices with IoT sensors to monitor, analyze and manage resources, weather, traffic and heating and cooling systems.
Top IoT Sensors
- Air quality sensors
- Biomedical sensors
- Chemical sensors
- Electric current sensors
- Flow sensors
- Humidity sensors
- Level sensors
- Motion sensors
- Pressure sensors
- Proximity sensors
- Temperature sensors
What Is an IoT sensor?
An IoT sensor is any sort of mechanism or tool, such as a camera or air quality monitor, integrated into a device. These sensors gather information — like water levels, air temperature and traffic patterns — related to the environments in which they’re deployed and transmit it to the cloud via Wi-Fi, bluetooth, 5G or other mobile network.
Take smart thermostats, for instance, which are equipped with temperature sensors that measure fluctuations in a home’s temperature. Because these thermostats are connected to the internet, users can log in via an app to monitor the temperature of their home and control the thermostat remotely.
What Are IoT Sensors Used For?
IoT sensors gather information so devices can be used remotely and data can be shared in real time. The data gathered by IoT sensors and sent to the cloud is analyzed by software that can make sense of the information and then sent to users. This data is used to track trends and gather insights about everything from efficiency and energy use in factories to athletic performance and a user’s health.
Types of IoT Sensors
These are some of the most popular IoT sensors found in smart devices like wearables, smartphones and other monitoring tools used by individuals, organizations and cities.
Accelerometers measure acceleration — basically the change in speed, direction and intensity of movement.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? Accelerometers are used to collect data from connected devices such as wearables, medical alert devices, cameras and cars to track activity. Tablets and smartphones also rely on accelerometers to know when to rotate displays based on the device’s physical orientation.
Air Quality Sensors
Air quality sensors measure levels of pollution, carbon dioxide and other particulates in the air.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? Air quality sensors gather data about what’s in the air and transmit their findings to the cloud. Cities typically use devices with air quality sensors so they can access real-time air quality conditions to issue warnings to residents if needed and track trends for study. Air quality sensors are being used in homes as well, detecting harmful particulates that could be indoors from appliances like gas stoves, which could warn residents to open a window or turn on an exhaust fan.
Biomedical sensors measure a person’s vital signs, like heart rate and oxygen level.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? Wearable devices like smartwatches and arm bands can be equipped with biomedical sensors. These devices communicate the data they collect back to the wearer so they can monitor their own health, or to a caregiver or medical staff, who is monitoring a patient or loved one remotely.
Cameras and image sensors capture visual data and images.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? Everything from smart refrigerators to autonomous vehicles rely on cameras to detect objects and monitor their surroundings. Cameras are also critical to smart cities as well as home and business security — think Ring cameras notifying a homeowner when someone is at their door, even if they aren’t there themselves. Cameras also play a role in factory and warehouse automation, helping perform tasks like product inspections.
Chemical sensors detect chemical changes like radiation and pH levels in air or liquids.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? Chemical sensors are used for environmental monitoring, like detecting chemical leaks in factories. They’re also being integrated into wearable devices to monitor the chemical makeup of sweat, saliva and even tears for more timely treatment and therapeutic care.
Electric Current Sensors
These sensors measure the amount of electricity running through a wire. They do so by monitoring the magnetic field the current generates along the wire.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? Electric current sensors are often used to track energy consumption and for remote and real-time monitoring of power systems to manage energy needs in places like data centers.
Flow sensors measure how quickly a liquid or gas flows past a certain point in a tube or pipe. A flow rate that’s too fast or too slow could indicate a problem, like a leak.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? Cities typically use flow sensors to help manage water systems and detect leaks. These sensors are also a key component of smart metering devices, which monitor how water or other resources like natural gas are used and consumed.
Gyroscopes sense a device’s angular velocity, the speed of rotation around an axis.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? In industrial settings, gyroscopes can be used to detect and identify safety issues, like careless forklift driving inside a warehouse or speeding delivery vehicles out on the road. They’re typically used in conjunction with accelerometers for display orientation on smartphones, tablets and other connected devices like gaming consoles.
Humidity sensors monitor humidity, or the amount of water vapor, in the air.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? These sensors are often used in smart building management and industrial settings to better manage comfort and energy use. They are typically paired with temperature sensors and other sensors like water sensors for remote monitoring of the environment.
Level sensors monitor the level of liquids in a contained environment.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? The data these sensors gather and report are critical when it comes to leak detection in industrial settings.
These sensors use infrared radiation or ultrasonic waves to detect motion.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? Safety and surveillance is a common use case as motion sensors can detect the presence of an object or person from the heat it emits or by bouncing ultrasonic waves off the object.
Pressure sensors measure the amount of pressure applied to a liquid or gas.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? Pressure sensors, which are used to detect the rise and fall of pressure, are used for leak detection and used to maintain water and heating systems in real time.
These sensors bounce infrared radiation or ultrasonic waves off objects to detect their presence.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? Proximity sensors, which are similar to motion sensors, also use infrared radiation or ultrasonic waves to measure the distance between objects, which is used in vehicles, smart cities for monitoring traffic, and industrial settings to track how parts, people and other objects move through a factory.
Temperature sensors detect changes in temperature, measuring the amount of heat there is in an environment.
How is the data from these IoT sensors used? Temperature sensors are used to monitor air or water temperature and are common in smart buildings and smart thermostats. Increasingly, food transport companies use these sensors to monitor any rise or fall in temperature of food storage areas. They’re also used in agriculture to monitor the temperature of soil and can provide real-time updates to farmers.