Incredibly versatile and reliable, ultrasonic sensors have been a mainstay on the sensing market for a long time now. Still, many people are unfamiliar with how they operate and the potential for various applications. As technology progressed, manufacturers started using them in multiple areas: industrial automated processes, production lines, food industry, self-parking technology, drones, robots – the list goes on and on. This means that these simple yet highly effective devices must be doing something right.
It’s impossible to fully explore the possibilities of ultrasonic sensors in only one article, but we’ll try to cover the basics. Learning how they work, how they’re used, and some advantages and advantages will help you understand what an ultrasonic sensor is and how it earned its deserved reputation. Check this website to find out more.
It’s All Physics
Even if you dreaded the subject in school, physics is the core of an ultrasonic sensor. In one simple sentence, this specialized instrument uses ultrasonic sound waves to tell us how far an object is. But how exactly does it provide reliable information about an object’s proximity? The answer lies in a device called a transducer, which sends sound waves greater than the audible range, at least for humans (we hear sounds from about 20Hz and 20kHz.)
Here’s the basic operating principle: the transducer we mentioned sends a pulse through the air. Then, if it reaches an obstacle, the echo goes back to the sensor. Once the echo is received, the sensor measures the time it took the sound to bounce off and shows us the exact distance. Ultrasonic sensors can detect almost any barrier: solid objects, translucent targets such as liquids, transparent items, no matter the surface or color.
Some of you will instantly associate this principle with the way bats hunt. Similar to our sensors, they locate their prey by receiving information from the echo in a cave or a forest. The chirp emitted by sensors varies between 23kHz and 40kHz, way above our hearing range. It is an incredibly quick and discrete way of measuring distance, using the laws of nature to provide us with valuable information.
Ultrasonic sensors have unlimited potential. So far, they have proven themselves worthy in many areas that require precise distance measurement and detection of targets. Let’s look at a few popular uses of ultrasonic sensors and why they’re valuable.
For some reason, we usually think of parking when someone mentions sensors. It’s only natural: cars are all around us, and those of you who drive constantly deal with parking spaces, parking tickets, and so on. Ultrasonic sensors are probably the best solution for carefree parking and are especially helpful when reversing into narrow spaces. Many of us have longed for a parking sensor in the case of an unfortunate bump with another car.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) such as drones use them regularly for measuring the distance to the ground and for detecting any objects in their path. This type of navigation is essential to avoid crashing and ensure a safe flight.
Process plants and factories frequently employ sensors, which can feature analog or digital outputs for different purposes. For instance, web guiding systems use ultrasonic waves to detect the edge of materials. Also, they are excellent detectors of glass and plastic bottles, plate glass, transparent films, and many other objects. Automated process control makes excellent use of these sensors on the factory floor.
The industry for PCBs (printed circuit boards) is also very suitable for these sensors. When producing circuit boards for home appliances, smartphones, motherboards, and other electronic devices, they use sensors to transport the boards.
The use of ultrasonic devices in medicine is invaluable in several different ways. Everyone knows how doctors use ultrasound to measure pregnancy. Other than that, infusion systems feature air bubble detection and flow measurement; the ultrasonic sensor transducers make this possible. Other areas where sensors work well are spirometry and various pharmaceutic devices. Breast imaging is another hugely important application: here, sensors find masses or detect changes if there are any.
In hazardous situations involving liquid or gas leaks, you can use so-called passive ultrasonic sensors to detect the damage source and react quickly.
Pros and Cons
Most devices have their good and bad sides, and sensors are no exception. They work perfectly well in certain situations, and can easily become useless in others. First, let’s check out the positives of these sensing gadgets.
Generally speaking, ultrasonic sensors are excellent for close and long-range detection. As we said earlier, the object’s color or material (except really soft materials that absorb sound) doesn’t matter. It could also be glass, water, or other transparent or translucent barrier. Modules with infrared sensors, for instance, might struggle with transparent materials, whereas ultrasonic waves are perfect for the task.
These little gadgets won’t fail you if you need precise measurements. The accuracy of quality ultrasonic sensors moves somewhere between 1% and 3%, and devices like SensComp Sensor Solutions can lower that range to 0.1%-0.2%. Now, bear in mind that these numbers are received in a controlled environment. In the real world, conditions are rarely ideal, if ever. Nevertheless, sensors offer precision to satisfy most scientific and non-scientific needs.
It wouldn’t be fair if we presented only the positives, so let’s shed some light on the disadvantages of ultrasonic sensors. Namely, harsh weather conditions could become a real problem for such a device: it can get filthy, frozen, or moist, which can easily cause defects or cause the sensor to stop functioning altogether. Their small size allows easy integration most of the time; still, sensors can be too big for some projects. Finally, as you might expect, they are useless in a vacuum, as they depend on sound to function.
All the above examples clearly show just how valuable ultrasonic sensors are. From a simple parking routine to UAV navigation, they ensure precise distance measurement and object detention so that processes can run seamlessly. We can expect that more technologies will use them in the future to help improve our lives.