Definition

sensor data

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Sensor data is the output of a device that detects and responds to some type of input from the physical environment. The output may be used to provide information or input to another system or to guide a process.

Sensors can be used to detect just about any physical element. Here are a few examples of sensors, just to give an idea of the number and diversity of their applications:

  • An accelerometer detects changes in gravitational acceleration in a device it's installed in, such as a smartphone or a game controller,  to determine acceleration, tilt and vibration.
  • A photosensor detects the presence of visible light, infrared transmission (IR) and/or ultraviolet (UV) energy. 
  • Lidar, a laser-based method of detection, range finding and mapping, typically uses a low-power, eye-safe pulsing laser working in conjunction with a camera.
  • A charge-coupled device (CCD) stores and displays the data for an image in such a way that each pixel  is converted into an electrical charge, the intensity of which is related to a color in the color spectrum.
  • Smart grid sensors can provide real-time data about grid conditions, detecting outages, faults and load and triggering alarms.

Wireless sensor networks combine specialized transducers with a communications infrastructure for monitoring and recording conditions at diverse locations. Commonly monitored parameters include temperature, humidity, pressure, wind direction and speed, illumination intensity, vibration intensity, sound intensity, power-line voltage, chemical concentrations, pollutant levels and vital body functions.

Sensor data is in integral component of the increasing reality of the Internet of Things (IoT) environment. In the IoT scenario, almost any entity imaginable can be outfitted with a unique identifier (UID) and the capacity to transfer data over a network. Much of the data transmitted is sensor data. The huge volume of data produced and transmitted from sensing devices can provide a lot of information but is often considered the next big data challenge for businesses. To deal with that challenge, sensor data analytics is a growing field of endeavor.

See also: wireless sensor and actuator network (WSAN), sensor hub

This was last updated in September 2015

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