It has been said that the 21st century is the century of photonics, just like 20th century is known for the evolution of electronics. We are going to see more and more photonics innovations where the power of light will be used in different ways in our everyday lives. Spectroscopy is based on photonics and we have already seen it being used very broadly as a powerful material analysis technology in laboratories. The miniaturization of analyzers has brought measurements from laboratories to at-line and in-line applications during the last decades. However, the price of existing analyzers is limiting their use in smart sensing applications in industrial processes, field inspection or even in prosumer and consumer applications. Overall, photonics will play an important role in the journey towards the Trillion Sensor world.
Evolution towards smart sensing
The development of affordable sensors will open many new opportunities for material sensing. Mass-production capabilities and miniaturization of spectral sensors are definitely seen as crucial steps towards future material sensing. But what else is needed to enable spectral sensors to be used in smart sensing applications? The future sensor platforms will combine photonics, ICT and IoT technologies to enable a significant increase in sensing applications. In addition of connectivity the utilization of artificial intelligence will play an increasingly important role in advanced smart sensors. Cloud computing algorithm development has taken giant steps in recent years and this will boost also the evolution of material analysis in the coming years. So, all this knowledge related into mass-production, miniaturization, connectivity, artificial intelligence and big data technologies should be applied in successful smart sensing solutions.
New sensors will create added value
The number of IoT devices is growing everywhere. Most of the existing sensors represent very mature technology, providing simple information about temperature, motion and pressure, but there is also a clear need for chemical and material sensors. Photonics and spectroscopy could bring future material sensing to many applications where we have not seen them used so far. The biggest need and added-value will be generated in the fields of Smart Industry, Smart Agriculture and Smart Homes.
Smart Industry solutions will help process industry to increase the efficiency and yield in the manufacturing processes. Practical examples are intelligent valves and control systems, and hand-held raw material inspection devices. Smart factories will have all systems connected, and this information allows an efficient controlling of material flow to optimize the quality and to reduce waste. The gathered data and continuous analyzing will be used to improve the overall functioning of the facility and reduce down-time.
Food safety and efficiency are big drivers in Smart Agriculture. New sensor solutions give online information about crop quality, watering and fertilizing needs and reliable information for trading. This is very important as the production of crops should increase 70 % by the year 2050 to feed our population. Agricultural business is already changing due to the added value created by new technologies: the amount of IoT shipment in agriculture business has been predicted to arise from 30 Mpcs to 75 Mpcs in six years.
We have already seen many innovative solutions developed for Smart Homes. The majority of them have been for lighting, temperature control and different kinds of entertainment systems. Spectral sensing is the key as homes become more connected for easy controlling of appliances, for energy savings and for added functionalities such as automated shopping or phone-operated locks.
The next generation Smart Home devices will be able to tell consumers more information about the food they eat; kitchen appliances will produce better quality products and indicate, if cleaning is needed, refrigerators will monitor the fill-up need and whether something is going bad, and washing machines can automatically select the right program based on the textile measurement done using a spectral sensor. Spectral Engines’ award-winning FoodScanner platform is a good show case towards this development.
One needs Meaningful Intelligence to catch the opportunity!
Tematys, a France-based market research company, predicted that the business of miniaturized spectral sensors will almost double in the next 5 years. This will create new business opportunities especially for agile and innovative companies. The miniaturization of sensors can be seen as an enabler, but at the same time the whole infrastructure should be developed to get full potential out of smart sensors. It is clear that this evolution of smart sensors requires combination of photonics, IoT and cloud computing technologies, but just to connect things and gather data does not add value as such. One needs to create something useful with the connectivity and the gathered data to really be smart. We call this Meaningful Intelligence. It simply means that one needs to first figure out the value to be created, and then adapt the sensor solution to that. The smartness of it all is to build the tools and the infrastructure so that it can be quickly adapted to new needs. In the future, smart equals learning.
By Janne Suhonen, COO, Spectral Engines