Why Optical Sensors are Essential to Successful IoT Innovations

Optical sensors have been used for over a century in limited applications such as imaging and distance measurement. But in the last ten years, photonic materials and effects have been extensively exploited for optical sensor applications, causing use cases to proliferate. And only in the last several years have next-generation optics technologies evolved to meet the high demands of modern applications.

At Pivot UK, we are global leaders in optical technologies and IoT sensor applications. We span more than fourteen industries and six markets, including medical, industrial, security and defence, construction solutions, sports and entertainment, and agriculture. With fifty years of trusted experience in product development, DFM, supply chain solutions, and scalable manufacturing, we are a proven partner to companies worldwide. Our extensive portfolio includes many award-winning examples of successful optical, sensor, and IoT innovations. We continue to lead the industry in developing advanced applications deployed by the private and public sectors.

Optics technologies are poised to play an increasingly prominent role in Industry 4.0 due to the radical change they are helping to drive in industrial processes. As the broad implementation of machine-to-machine learning and IoT causes the traditional boundaries between manufacturing and telecommunication sectors to crumble, market demand for optical sensors, actuators, and other smart devices is skyrocketing.

The Role of Optical Sensors in IoT

Within layered (stacked) IoT architecture, optical technologies interface primarily with the device layer (sensors and actuators) and the network layer (transport capacities). While various sensors and actuators can be implemented with optical effects and structures, the architecture of today’s transport network depends primarily on optical communication systems. This means that the role of these technologies is only accelerating in providing high-performance and ubiquitous transport networks for IoT systems. And when combined with optical fibres and network components such as optical multiplexers/demultiplexers and switches, they enable more complex, extended sensing systems.

Why Optical Sensors Are Nearly Universally Applicable

Optical sensors have nearly universal use-case applications for two reasons. The first is their discrete and distributed ability to register a wide range of quantities and qualities. The second is the unmatched advantages provided by properties that include:

  • Short wavelength
  • Lightweight, compact size
  • Lack of electromagnetic radiation
  • Immunity to electromagnetic interference
  • Ability to perform remote and multi-position measurements

Common applications of optical sensors include:

  • Measurement of temperature, vibration, velocity, acceleration, strain, pressure, or shape of an object
  • Measurement of various chemical properties
  • Medical applications such as measurement of blood flow, skin irritants, blood perfusion
  • Industrial applications such as real-time thermal imaging, detection of delamination and defects, inspection or sterilisation of surfaces
  • Agricultural applications such as crop disease diagnosis

Our most celebrated products were developed using optical sensors, including the Peek Retina, a portable smartphone-compatible ophthalmoscope, winner of a European Product Design Award for Best Design for Humanity.

Optical Sensors Outperform Electrical and Electromagnetic Sensors In Challenging Conditions

Optical sensors are better suited for wet, hot, harsh, high-pressure, hazardous, or otherwise challenging environments than electrical and electromagnetic sensors. This makes optical sensors ideal for underwater applications.

As an excellent case in point, A2E, Pivot’s subsidiary with expertise in sensor development and embedded electronics, recently developed a flexible subsea platform composed of a sensor, embedded controller, and configurable interface. And Wideblue, Pivot’s multi-disciplinary product design, engineering, and development firm, recently applied its advanced optics and photonics expertise to revolutionise the most accurate timepiece in existence. In collaboration with a partner firm, it developed a miniaturised optical atomic clock to provide the ultra-precise timing instrumentation necessary for ensuring highly accurate satellite synchronisation.

An Underappreciated Technology With Unlimited Potential

While wireless technologies are high on companies’ radar when developing new IoT products, optical technologies have been comparatively overlooked. But this is changing as their unlimited potential is being recognised and unleashed in every product imaginable.

If you’re gearing up to develop a new product, Pivot UK is the partner you’ve been looking for. We’ll collaborate with you closely to match the ideal product solutions for your use case with an extensive suite of wireless and digital technologies that include LoRa, NB-IoT, Cat-M1, Bluetooth, and many more. If you’d like to learn how our optics, sensor, and IoT expertise can help you launch a successful innovation, contact us today.

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