Multi-functional sensors search for new applications and value

Multi-functional sensors search for new applications and value
A multi-functional sensor or detector is one that integrates multiple sensors. Applications of multi-functional sensors can be found in environmental safety and security, healthcare, indoor air quality monitoring, or outdoor weather forecast and gardening.
 
The basic models integrate temperature and humidity sensors for indoor climate control. Thanks to hardware improvement, smart algorithms and support for remote control from the smartphone, more and more sensor types can be integrated into one multifunctional sensor for both indoor and outdoor uses.
 
It’s a trend to release products with multiple sensors to make the system smarter and make people’s lives better.
 
Smart home sensors are categorized into single-functional and multi-functional sensors. The former belongs to the mainstream market with competitive unit prices and large sales volume; the latter, called “hybrid sensor” by some makers, belongs to the niche market for the early adopters. In recent years, there has been an increasing demand for multifunctional sensors to address needs from emerging applications.
 
Elgato PR Director Lars Felber said, “The sensor is a great entry-level solution for smart home beginners as they work similar to a fitness tracker. Users can gather information about their home and make smart decisions to improve their comfort.” Daniel P Dykes, Director of Business Development at Aeon Labs said, “Aeotec’s customers and the broader market are demanding multi-functional devices that are an area we’re particularly excited about. You can expect that trend to become mainstream. For instance, smart LED bulbs offer more than just lighting.”
 

Beyond security purposes

Previously, smart home sensors were designed for home security and automation applications. In the coming years, there has been a convergence in the design of these two applications.
 
The combination will deliver more valuable products, offering benefits like energy cost savings. Moreover, we can see application-driven products that incorporate multiple sensors to achieve more precise detection and full functions, and to offer added value for customers.
 
Ewa Bujak, PR Manager at Fibar Group said, “There are a number of reasons why IoT should be brought into the houses. One important reason is for safety and comfort. For us, at the moment, the most important thing is to allow the elderly and disabled people to live dignified lives on their own.”
 
“The security benefits from a device that offers motion and vibration sensing are obvious. We have one company in Australia using MultiSensor 6 to drive a powerful energy saving system where electronic windows, curtains, dehumidifiers and air conditioning units are all controlled by MultiSensor 6. This particular system aims to cut down on expensive air conditioning use by layering wind forecasts with MultiSensor 6’s temperature, UV and humidity readings to create natural air flow and cooling systems in a home,” said Dykes of Aeon Labs. Aeotec MultiSensor 6 is a motion sensor capable of powering a connected Home’s security or ambience needs by integrating temperature, light, humidity, UV, vibration sensors. The tiny device measures only 4cm in width. Dykes of Aeon Labs believes the ultimate trend is to develop smaller devices with multiple built-in sensors for the connected home.
 
Wulain has a new product called Dream Flower, which is not just used to grow flowers. The device works as a network router and control center, and it integrates environmental sensors, including temperature, humidity, CO2, PM2.5 and noise sensors. Jennifer Ren, Overseas Marketing Sales Manager at Wulian indicated that it’s a trend to combine multiple sensors into one device in the smart home space.
 

Application-driven designs

To attract consumers’ attentions, application-driven innovations are appealing. With regards to applications, the multi-functional sensors are commonly used for home security and safety, comfort and healthcare. Energy savings can be bonus value. Thanks to cloud services and smarter algorithms, collected data can be analyzed to improve living environment and prevent from weather threats.
 
Phil Smith, Chief Marketing Officer at Halo Smart Labs said, “The challenge for Brands is in developing products that have more than just a novelty value to the consumer. We are committed to purpose-driven innovation, by that we will only develop products that offer consumers a significant functional benefit that couldn’t be achieved without the application of any new technology, whether that be sensors, or something yet to be introduced.”
 
Indoor air quality monitoring for healthcare and sleep monitoring are two popular categories. Philio plans to release an air quality monitoring device and an outdoor weather sensor in the coming years. Chu of Philio said, “We see the smart home market for automation and security having robust growth since the end of 2015. The homecare applications like air quality monitoring and healthcare are expected to grow in 2016.”
 
Blueair, a leading air purifier company, will release Blueair Aware in October to address the market demand for accurate air quality monitoring. Blueair Aware connects smart devices like the Blueair Sense+ air purifier and Blueair Friend app. Users can monitor air quality wherever they are by using their mobile phone, computer or Apple Watch. Bengt Rittri, Blueair CEO and Founder, said “We provide air purifiers to government agencies, hospitals, leading hotels and private homes. The Blueair Aware is in response to their need for an air quality monitoring device to help guarantee good air quality for improved health and wellbeing. With the evolution of Internet of Things, we are developing the products that allow customers to monitor air quality at home or in the office as a natural extension of our product line.”
 
Besides Blueair Aware, Airboxlab’s Foobot is a full-functional device offering instant readings on the front panel with colored LEDs, indicating air quality conditions. Embedded with temperature, humidity and air quality sensors, Foobot is continuously monitoring for pollutants like volatile organic compounds and particulate matter like PM2.5 in addition to temperature and humidity. Detailed measurements, charts, warnings and notifications are shown on the user’s smartphone. Jacques Touillon, CEO at Airboxlab said, “We are bridging smart home and connected health with data processing. We empower users to make decision with knowledge and information to protect their health and improve their wellness.”
 
Sevenhugs will roll out a family sleep monitoring device called hugOne in October. The product is designed to help the entire family sleep better by monitoring sleep phase, temperature, humidity and air quality. hugOne works as a hub and an air-quality monitoring device with the integrated volatile organic compound (VOC) sensor. hugOne monitors environmental temperature and humidity as well as the user’s sleep cycles by working with minihugs placed at one corner of the bed. The next-generation product might furtherintegrate asound or light sensor.
 
To ensure environmental safety and make people safer, the makers are adding unique features to make their products stand out from others. Smith of Halo Smart Labs said, “Most US smoke alarms only detect the smoke from fast-moving fires. Our Halo+ provides the added protection to guard against slow-burning fires as well. Besides indoor safety, its Halo+, designed as an indoor weather alert system, provides verbal alerts on impending dangerous weather conditions like tornadoes, hurricanes or floods. Users can program which external threats they wish to monitor.
 

Outdoor gardening and weather monitoring

Beside indoor units, outdoor weather stations and garden monitoring systems are getting popular. Aeon Labs thinks the outdoor market is a huge space and they are expanding that intelligence into ‘outdoor rooms’ such as the garage.
 
Edyn’s role in the market is to bring the smart home to the garden. Edyn CEO Jason Aramburu said, “The most promising application is to satisfy a user’s need or improve efficiency. For example, our Edyn garden sensor is used to help grow healthier gardens.” Edyn has developed a smart garden system that monitors and tracks environmental conditions to help users to growth plants in a smart way. Its Edyn Garden Sensor is a wireless soil sensor that constantly monitors the environment, and the Edyn app provides smart recommendations about what types of plants are best suited for the user’s garden, and how to ensure they thrive.
 
Archos released Weather Station and Elgato launched Eve Weather to monitoring outdoor weather conditions. The weather stations and sensors generally integrate temperature, humidity and air pressure to sense the outdoor environment. The Archos Weather Station lets users to know all measurements detected by the different station modules, including indoor temperature, humidity, CO2 level and atmospheric pressure, along with temperature and humidity for outdoor and soil.
 
Compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, Elgato Eve Weather supports voice command and can connect directly to an iPhone or iPad using Bluetooth Smart technology, without requiring a hub, gateway or bridge. Felber of Elgato said, “We offer outdoor and indoor sensors that are both controlled by the Eve app, so they will work standalone or as a combination.”
 
The Netatmo Weather Station is used to monitor indoor and outdoor environments, including temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, CO2, sound, rainfall and wind, helping to improve lifestyle habits. The device comes with additional modules, the Rain Gauge and the Wind Gauge, to provide accurate professional measurements.
 

Data analysis provides value

Besides hardware improvement, it’s essential to effectively collect and analyze data as well as related services to create true value. Spetic of CubeSensors said, “It’s not just by adding more sensors, that’s usually the easy part. At CubeSensors, we spend a lot of time figuring out how to make use of the data that’s collected, which is a challenge any device with sensors has to face.” Touillon of Airboxlab said, indicated that indoor air pollution is complex. He thinks the most interesting trend would be the deployment of sensors network to provide more precise measurement on granularity as well as the sources of pollution.
 
Touillon of Airboxlab said, “Outdoor pollution is both less complex to monitor and different from indoor pollution. Furthermore, there is already a lot of existing and available data for the outdoor pollution. Therefore, instead of recreating another outdoor sensor array, we will collect existing data and use them as the benchmark for our indoor products.”
 
CubeSensors connects data from existing sleep trackers people already wear like Fitbit, Jawbone UP with environment data collected from CubeSensors in bedrooms, enabling users to have better sleeping quality and stay healthy. The product helps user s to find the right balance between temperature and humidity by reminding them when to open the windows along with advises on proper ambient conditions like lighting and noisiness.
 
Besides collecting and analyzing data from the devices or cloud server, the markers work with third-party devices to offer more intelligence. hugOne work with Nest thermostat and Philips Hue smart bulb for better environmental control. “Our smart alarm design analyzes the user’s sleep cycle and identifies the best wakeup time in the morning. When the user wakes up in the morning, the hugOne will trigger the Hue to illuminate the room. Besides smart lighting, hugOne also works with the Nest thermostat for automatic temperature control to set up preferred environmental temperature. Also, our system will support IFFFT at the end of 2015,” indicated Stephane Jaubertou, COO and co-founder of Sevenhugs. Working with the third-party devices also helps enhance the interoperability. Smith of Halo Smart Labs said, “Our Halo and Halo+ live within the IoT or smart home ecosystem, and are compatible with 95 percent of existing smart home systems, including iControl, and Iris.”
 
Internet of Things (IoT) is disruptive and reinventing our lifestyles by revolutionizing everyday life. Fred Potter, Founder and CEO of Netatmo thinks in order for IoT to be widely adapted by consumers, connected devices must be easy to use and provide a clear added value. “In less than 10 years, people won’t think about IoT as a trend, simply because all products will be connected. We won’t say a product is ‘connected’ or ‘smart’, it will just be assumed.”
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