Connectivity is the order of the day in today’s shrinking world, and the world of sensors is no exception. At the just-completed Sensors Expo in Rosemont, IL, there was no shortage of sensor products touting advances in miniaturization and performance. But more important, sensors are taking on the role of being key detection and control nodes in manufacturing, transportation, energy monitoring, and medical networks.

This brave new world for sensors was highlighted in a keynote speech by Beth Wozniak, President of Sensing and Control for Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions. Not only does Wozniak foresee sensors going into more applications than ever, she believes sensors will play a pivotal role in improving our health and well-being, boosting economic productivity, and lowering energy costs.

As an example, Wozniak said sensors could monitor the effects of prescription doses. The information sensors provide would enable doctors to adjust dosage levels, without requiring patients to continually visit medical facilities. Home health care would improve and overall health care costs could be reduced.

In transportation, Wozniak suggested sensors could monitor flow in bus-only lanes and signal control systems to allow automobiles to use those lanes, if congestion was severe. In agricultural facilities, Wozniak believes sensors could team with video cameras to monitor soil conditions to improve crop control and yield.

One key to making this all happen, according to Wozniak, is continuing improvements in wireless sensor networks. In the future, sensor nodes on these networks would not only detect abnormal conditions but also incorporate the intelligence to make control decisions and thus reduce processing overhead on the central controller. To become feasible, sensor networks would have to address challenges in power, security, and of course, cost.

Judging from the exhibits and conference sessions at Sensors Expo, Wozniak’s vision is becoming a reality. Sprinkled among the dozens of sensor vendors at the show were companies showing wireless networking solutions using high-speed protocols. Several conference sessions addressed issues such as low-power wireless sensing, wireless standards, and the development of 'smart' sensors.

The future of sensors is unfurling before our eyes.