T he market for state-of-the-art sensor technology in India has witnessed unprecedented growth in recent years, and a critical factor to this success has been the boom in the mobile phone and consumer electronics market. The high volume sales of mid to high-end phones with cameras, audio and video capabilities have been driving the demand for image sensors, touch sensors, and motion sensors whilst some top-line phones even use sensors for mobile power conservation. Consumer electronic devices are the next high volume consumers of sensors. Temperature sensors in frost-free refrigerators, brightness sensors, ambient light sensors and energy sensors in LCD TVs, an array of sensors for smart washing machines, purity sensors for water purifiers and image sensors for advanced functionality in digital cameras are just a few examples.
While the market for conventional sensors such as level, flow, pressure, temperature, etc, continue to flourish, sensor technologies have also been transitioning like any product market. These advancements have resulted in the creation of some innovative sensor technologies that hold great promise for the future.
This is probably one of the most significant developments in sensing technologies. Constant reduction in the sizes of various end-user products and the continuous transition from mechanical to electronic controls in all applications are the primary drivers for semiconductor sensors. The increasing demand for intelligent devices, be it mobile handsets or consumer electronic products or cars, is driving the inclusion of semiconductor sensors owing to their better performance and seamless integration with other electronic devices.
Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) have ushered in a totally new approach to sensors and are hailed for their performance benefits. MEMS, being semiconductor-based sensing technologies, are expected to have their widespread adoption in automotive and consumer electronics driving the penetration of semiconductor sensors in other application areas in the future. Some of the prominent current and future usage areas of MEMS sensors are automotive, medical and consumer electronics including mobile phones. In the automotive sector, MEMS accelerometers, gyroscopes and pressure sensors will be increasingly used with growing emphasis on passenger safety. Semiconductor sensors also see a growth avenue in screening equipment at medical facilities, with application in blood pressure monitoring, glucometers, pacemakers, etc. Applications are also expected to increase for temperature sensing in consumer electronics for devices like laptops, handsets, TV sets, etc.
It is a technology that is still in its very nascent stage in India and is expected to be one of the technologies to watch out for in the coming years. A breakthrough technology that has the capability to transform many applications including industrial, medical, and consumer electronics, wireless sensors also hold the key to government initiatives for homeland security. Wireless sensors basically involve a group of sensor nodes that are capable of monitoring different aspects of an environment and communicating to a central nodal point where all the data can be gathered and analysed. Such a setup makes it the most promising for centralised security and surveillance application in public places, roads, and even corporate buildings. IP CCTV security system is one such typical application that involves multiple image sensors at the various nodes of the network and is gaining fast deployment and acceptance across the nation.
Building automation and home automation are the two other promising areas where wireless sensors are expected to find application in the long term. Network of sensors for lighting control, power saving and management, internal security and surveillance, and temperature control is a classic example of usage of wireless sensors in home and building automation. The group of sensors can be made to operate on short range wireless technologies such as the ZigBee for effective home or building automation. Industry automation is another area of promise for wireless sensors. Remote facility monitoring and energy management are two of the critical functions where wireless sensor networks can be deployed in an industrial setup. For instance, in sensitive industries such as oil, gas, and petrochemical plants, wireless sensors can be effectively used for remote monitoring, aiding in identification of leaks or other abnormalities.
Beyond the MEMS and wireless sensors, other sensing technologies that are expected to find increasing usage are biosensors and complimentary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS). Biosensors are ideal tools for the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases. With advances in biotechnology, biosensors are expected to play an active role in various drug discovery research applications as well as analysis of physiological signals for disease diagnosis. CMOS sensors are the new thrust area under semiconductor sensors. Benefiting from the high performance, higher integration levels, and better power capability offered by the CMOS technology, CMOS sensors are expected to achieve higher penetration in many applications. The replacement of conventional image sensors by CMOS image sensors for mobile phones and digital cameras is one such application.
Avenues for growth
The market and opportunities for sensor technologies are thus wide and expanding. The growth in the various application markets in India is posing a very promising future for the sensors market in the country in the coming years.
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