How do physical sensors work?
19 June, 2019 by
How do physical sensors work?
Natalia Vavilina


There are hundreds of physical sensors and approaches that exist. New types of sensors appear almost every month. We, us a hardware device producers, want to be transparent about our know-how. In order to help SO’s, integrators and IoT platforms succeed in sales, we created webinar series, which started 4 June 2019 with the first insight, called “How physical sensors work, what they can and cannot do”. This blog post will help you to understand the general content of the insight. For more information, check out our webinar page.

Let’s start with some basic features of each sensor:

  • Price (0.2 – 40 USD)

  • Consumption (mostly negligible in comparison with Sigfox emission)

  • Longevity (6 months – 20 years)

  • Resolution/sensitivity/noise

  • Precision

  • Range of measurement

  • Size 1×2 mm – 50x20mm

  • Operating/temperature range

  • Intelligence due to local processing

MEMS (Microelectromechanical systems) are included in every mobile phone. Plus, they can be combined to one chip very often. There are three most common of them: accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope. Let’s review them all briefly:


  • Measuring direction to the earth center

  • Measuring acceleration

  • Lowest price, lowest consumption

  • Vibration detection

  • Freefall

  • Impact detection

  • Tilt/inclination


  • Measuring direction to the North Pole

  • Basically a compass

  • Low price, middle consumption

  • Rotation in a vertical axis

  • Either in relation to Earth magnetic field or to a closeby permanent magnet

  • Door opening detection

  • Valve opening detection

  • Mobile road sign orientation


  • Measuring steady movement in all directions

  • Middle price, high consumption

  • Mostly in stabilizing drones, cameras, segways, etc.

  • Can project paths between points in tunnels with no GPS coverage

Apart from MEMES, there are plenty of sensors more, but in order to succeed in your IoT project, you need to choose primarily based on the use case. Here is the infographic, where we describe the usage of some physical sensors.

Hungry for more sensors? Go check out our webinar page, where you can find the webinar recordings and slides!

Best wishes

Simple Hardware Team

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