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What is sensory technology in IoT? 19 common types of sensors used in IoT

We have talked widely about the uses of IoT (Internet of Things) technology – from security to some of the biggest trends. However, we wanted to talk more about the technology behind the IoT and how it works.

Until recently, many physical objects, except for personal computers and smartphones, had no means to connect to the internet until the advent of IoT technology.

We are now entering an age where devices exchange information over the internet, enabling us to remotely operate devices and collect data. With this technology you can remotely control a huge range of applications, from the home to the workplace.

Sensors are at the heart of the Internet of Things. Sensor technology is what allows us to communicate and collect data and in this article, we are going to talk more about the use of sensor technology in IoT.

What are sensors?

Sensors have been around for a long time. The first thermostat was introduced in the late 1880s and infrared sensors have been around since the late 1940s. The IoT and its counterpart, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), are bringing sensor usage to a new level.

In their most basic form, sensors are devices that detect and respond to changes in an environment. Inputs can come from a variety of sources such as light, temperature, motion, and pressure. If connected to a network, a sensor can share data with other connected devices and management systems.

How are sensors being used in business?

Sensors are crucial to the operation of many of today’s businesses. They can warn of potential problems before they become big problems, allowing businesses to perform predictive maintenance and avoid costly downtime. The data from sensors can be analysed for trends allowing business owners to gain insight into crucial systems and to make informed evidence-based decisions.

This is especially relevant in today’s world, with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic being felt all around the globe. With more and more people working from home, the ability to manage applications remotely has led to the growth in IoT solutions.

The healthcare sector continues to invest heavily in IoT and the speed of the development of IoT solutions in healthcare has been fast-tracked due to the pandemic. As we head into 2021, expect to see further growth and development in healthcare. This also applies to retail.

What are the types of sensor used in IoT?

We have already touched on some of the sensors that are used in IoT applications. Let’s take a closer look at the most popular types of IoT sensors and some of their use cases.

1.      Temperature sensors

Temperature sensors have a wide range of applications, both in the home and industry. Within manufacturing, temperature sensors are used to ensure machinery does not overheat, or to keep devices at a specific temperature. In agriculture, soil temperature is also a key factor in crop growth and specifically here in New Zealand, soil temperature is an important factor in the growth of vines in the wine making industry.

In the home, sensors are used to monitor temperature and through a smartphone app, heat pumps can be controlled to raise or lower a home’s ambient temperature.

2.      Infrared Sensors

These types of sensors sense characteristics in their surroundings by either emitting or detecting infrared radiation. They can measure the infrared (a.k.a. heat) emitted by objects. Infrared sensors are used in a variety of different IoT scenarios including healthcare simplifying things such as the monitoring of blood flow and blood pressure.

In the home, infrared sensors have been used for years by televisions to detect signals sent from a remote control. One of the more interesting use of infrared sensors is by art historians who use infrared sensors to see hidden layers in paintings to determine whether they are real or fake.

NEC’s iris recognition solution uses infrared to read the iris from a distance. Because heat is light in the infrared spectrum, the use of infrared means that iris recognition can take place in the dark!

3.      Optical Sensors

Most of us interact with optical sensors every day and they are becoming more commonplace through the development of driverless or driver assisted cars. Optical sensors convert rays of light into electrical signals and are used by vehicles to detect obstacles that we may not notice ourselves or to detect when a driver may drift out of their chosen lane, while tired or distracted.

They are also used in smartphones, primarily to detect ambient lighting which helps to preserve battery life by adjusting screen brightness to match. Optical sensors are also used in the biomedical field in heart rate monitors and breath analysis.

NEC also uses optical sensors in its gaze detection solution to monitor where transport drivers are looking, to ensure drivers are paying due attention to the road ahead, especially as their speed increases.

4.      Accelerometers

Accelerometers detect an object’s acceleration and for us here at NEC New Zealand, they are most commonly used in our Smart Transportation solutions as a way of monitoring driving fleets. Both of NEC’s Accident Reduction System and Driver Profiling System use accelerometers to collect data that allows transport operators to make informed decisions about their fleet and drivers. Accelerometers can also be used as anti-theft protection, alerting the system if an object that should be stationary is moving.

Accelerometers are the sensors responsible for potentially saving lives by deploying airbags in automotive collisions.

5.      Proximity Sensors

Proximity sensors are used for non-contact detection of objects near the sensor and have some really interesting use cases. In retail, they are used to detect a customer’s movement in and around certain products and displays, triggering notifications about the product to be either displayed in-store or on a user’s device. Proximity sensors in vehicles warn the driver when other vehicles, objects or pedestrians are close to the vehicle. Proximity sensors are now also widely used in parking facilities to indicate availability and are also used in manufacturing as part of the production line process.

Other types of sensor commonly used in day to day life include:

  1. Humidity Sensors
  2. Pressure Sensors
  3. Level Sensors
  4. Altitude sensors
  5. Speed sensors
  6. Air movement (wind) sensors
  7. Electrical current sensors
  8. Gyroscopes
  9. Gas Sensors
  10. Sound Sensors
  11. Light Sensors
  12. Moisture Sensors
  13. Magnetic Sensors
  14. Image Sensors


Sensor technology is changing every aspect of our lives, whether this be our home life, our work or our leisure. Sensors make our lives easier, more informed and keep us safe.

As the number of applications for IoT technology grows exponentially, the need for sensors continues to scale and their uses become even more widespread. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the development of new solutions using IoT sensor technology. All the smart aspects of our home, our vehicles and our devices rely heavily on the use of various sensor technologies. Sensors are everywhere and in everything, but we are still only scratching the surface of the role sensors will play on our future lives.


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