What are IoT Sensors?
By Aleks Sheynkman
Director of Engineering
The future of building automation is powered by the Internet of Things (IoT)—specifically, IoT sensors. What are IoT sensors? They’re catalysts for cause and effect; action and reaction. If automation is a series of triggers based on actions or variables, IoT sensors are the gauges that capture these stimuli and facilitate action.
Though they’re set up to perform the same fundamental action, the mode by which IoT sensors work differ. We measure different stimuli by different means, which facilitates the need for all types of IoT sensors. The motion sensor that activates the lights doesn’t serve the same purpose as the temperature sensor that kicks on the A/C.
Take a look at the different types of sensors, as well as some examples of IoT sensors at work. It’s easy to see how and why buildings are evolving to meet more complex demands.
Condition-monitoring sensors are the most diverse types of sensors for IoT. Condition changes take many forms and are caused by many variables. Think of your basic senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Condition-monitoring works in the same way. You can tell if something is hot or cold, or if it tastes sweet or sour. The stimuli elicits a reaction from your body. These sensors work the same way, only the building is the body.
Building condition-monitoring sensors deal with changes to workplace conditions. They’re primarily used to set, control, and maintain climate. Some examples include:
- Temperature sensors linked to the building’s HVAC system
- Humidity sensors used to keep moisture levels under control
- Pressure (gas) sensors to ensure safety in the event of gas leaks
- Parts per million (PPM) sensors to detect air particulates
The purpose of these sensors ranges from employee comfort to protection from immediate danger. They tend to be passive sensors—not critical to everyday facility processes or oversight. Instead, their importance comes at a macro level. Are we properly controlling our HVAC costs? How long was the gas leak present before detected? Are employees comfortable?
Motion, detection, and proximity sensors
Motion, detection, and proximity sensors serve a more practical application. These sensors for IoT networks have active triggers—they elicit an immediate reaction. They also function as I/O switches that trigger automations based on facility utilization. Some commonplace examples include:
- Motion-sensitive lighting fixtures that react to movement
- Proximity sensors that activate to signal room occupancy
- Detection sensors that trigger when an employee sits in a chair
These are the types of IoT sensors that facilitate the bulk of agile business operations. Sensors send real-time I/O data to an integrated workplace management system (IWMS), which interprets the information. For example, if a detection sensor says a desk is occupied, it becomes unavailable to book. These sensors are the front-most triggers for robust automation at the workplace level.
Optical and infrared sensors
Optical and infrared sensors are the most complex of workplace IoT sensors. They serve a variety of purposes and can facilitate high-level automation. Unfortunately, these sensors are expensive and don’t yet come with the return on investment to justify their purchase for many businesses. Some examples include:
- Optical sensors that measure incoming light and adjust window blinds or tint
- Infrared sensors gauge the heat level of a conference room
There’s untold potential for optical and infrared sensors in the workplace. These high-level sensors are already established in numerous other industries. For example, optical sensors help gauge density and depth on a smartphone. Likewise, agriculture operations use infrared sensors to promote better crop planting arrangements. Though seemingly obscure, these examples parallel facility management and may unlock automations such as facial recognition for access control or automated desk arrangement plans.
A trigger for every change
For automation to work, every part of the action-reaction sequence must be compatible. Whether the trigger is motion, temperature, optical disruption, or any of dozens of other stimuli, it takes the right sensor to provoke the right reaction.
For businesses building out smarter facilities, consider the nature of automation—the input and output actions. What stimuli best triggers the result you want, and what sensor is the missing link between them? Building automation is much easier from a formulaic standpoint. Thanks to the multitudes of IoT sensors already on the market, you don’t need to look far to find a sensor that bridges the gap between the automation you want and the triggers you have.