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As the ‘data gatherers’, sensors are the starting point of any IoT solution.

The sensors must measure an accurate representation of the conditions, otherwise the data is unreliable and unusable. The better the quality of the data gathered through an IoT system, the better value and insight that will result from the analysis.

A sensor collects information from a defined source and converts this into a signal that can be measured. The sensor resides at the edge of the IoT system and is often referred to as an ‘edge node’ or ‘end node’.

There’s a vast range of sensors already on the market that can be integrated into IoT systems.

Sensors readily available to measure or detect:

  • Distance
  • Image recognition
  • Material stress, strain
  • Pressure
  • Sound
  • Vibration
  • Gases, vapours, chemicals, pH
  • Luminosity, radiance
  • Moisture
  • Proximity
  • Sped, direction, position
  • Wavelengths of light
  • Humidity
  • Magnetic & electric fields
  • Motion
  • Shape, colour, movement
  • Temperature
  • Multi-axis orientation

Factors to consider when choosing sensors

  • Cost
  • Reliability
  • Availability
  • Power consumption
  • Ease of use and integration
  • Accuracy levels
  • Range, calibration and resolution required
  • Environment

Common sensor interfaces

There are many different communication protocols used to interface a microcontroller with sensors. Unlike the rest of the communication protocols found in IoT applications, these are mostly always wired. All of the protocols below are commonly supported by most microcontroller devices.

  • UART / Serial
  • I²C
  • SPI
  • ADC
  • I²S
  • 1-Wire
  • GPIO

Always check with the sensor manufacturer that the communication protocols used by the sensor are supported on the microcontroller.