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Sensors are the essential eyes and ears for monitoring and controlling a range of systems and applications. New enhancements in sensors and imaging technology are changing the way that sensors are used, and driving increased adoption of advanced sensors in:

  • Medical diagnostics
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Security
  • Offshore renewable energy

These advancements include wireless sensors, miniaturised lower-power sensors with convenient form factors and sensors with greater built-in intelligence.

Sensors in medical diagnostics

Scottish companies are making advancements in areas such as:

  • Point-of-care testing and diagnostics
  • Molecular diagnostics for screening cancers and generic diseases
  • Medical imaging molecular diagnostics
  • High throughput drug screening
  • Precision medicine optical imaging
  • Minimally-invasive patient monitoring
  • Implantable sensors

Examples of innovations

The University of Strathclyde is developing wound hydration systems using wearable sensors, and smartphone-based devices that use imaging for providing healthcare in developing or low-income regions.

Gas Sensing Solutions provides high-performance non-dispersive infrared carbon dioxide sensors that don’t require an optical filter, which makes them perfect for monitoring respiratory gases during surgeries and metabolic rate measurement.

The University of Glasgow and XstalBio Ltd are doing research related to sensing personal metabolome (the complete set of small-molecule chemicals found within a biological sample).

Scottish companies Diagnostic Sonar Ltd and SemFab Ltd are both active participants in Project Sonopill, which focuses on minimally-invasive gastrointestinal diagnosis and therapy.

Sensors in environmental monitoring

There is keen interest in developing advanced sensors, including quantum cascade lasers (QCL) with improved sensitivity, selectivity, range and ability to rapidly alert people to potentially unhealthy conditions and monitoring chemical and gas leakages. QCL plays a role in THZ frequency range, which offers opportunities in biomedical and security imaging.

Scottish companies are developing wearable sensors for personalised air quality monitoring and wireless sensor networks for monitoring the distribution of pollutants in an area.

Examples of innovations

Cascade Technologies (acquired by Emerson) has a wide range of gas analysers and emission monitoring systems that are able to offer real-time measurement of multiple gases simultaneously. It also provides economical, low maintenance, high performance continuous emissions monitoring systems.

Scottish companies are also developing sensors that can help maintain indoor air quality. Gas Sensing Solutions’ infrared (IR) CO2 sensors for portable instruments are good examples of this.

Cascade Technologies and Gas Sensor Solutions are both active in the Mirage project, backed by Scottish Enterprise and the Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems (CENSIS). The project aims to develop next-generation sensing and imaging system technologies, and a very low-power methane sensor targeted at hydrocarbon detection in oil and gas and coal mining.

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University have identified that multi- or hyper-spectral lidar has the potential to provide information about carbon sequestration and existing forest stocks. This will allow us to better understand and predict the impact of climate change. Lidar could also measure the seasonal dynamics of an ecosystem’s carbon uptake in response to environmental factors, such as water, temperature, light and nutrient availability.

Sensors in security

Security (including defence and homeland security) is a critical application area for advanced sensor technologies.

Sensing can help the military address threats, countermeasures, situational awareness and target identification.

Key focus areas for homeland security include:

  • Chemical, biological, and explosives detectors with enhanced sensitivity, selectivity and stand-off detection capabilities
  • Sensors with immunity to false alarms
  • Improved situational awareness wireless sensor networks for protecting civilians from improvised explosive devices
  • Remote sensing and fusion of data from multi-sensor systems

Examples of innovations

Under the SUPERCAMERA project (2013-2017), researchers from University of Glasgow, Curtin University and the University of Oxford aim to create a unique superspectral imaging chip. This chip will be capable of providing detection in widely different spectral bands using low-cost metal oxide semiconductor technology for digital imaging.

Researchers from Heriot-Watt University, Hydrason Solutions Limited and CENSIS have developed an enhanced wideband sonar system that reproduces the frequencies of sonar signals so they closely correspond to those from bluenose dolphins. This will enable more accurate location of underwater objects and identification of their structure and composition.

Gas Sensing Solutions plans to use its fast, small-form factor, low-power wireless CO2 sensors in conjunction with energy harvesting for detecting forest fires.

Sensors in marine energy

Scotland offers key opportunities for enhanced sensors to monitor interactions or potential collisions between marine energy devices (such as marine turbines, wave or tidal energy converters) and marine life.

Scottish companies are aware that existing subsea environmental monitoring processes for wave and tidal energy can be expensive. There is a need to analyse the environment around a proposed site before installation and during construction and operation.

They are working to ensure the safety of both the natural environment and equipment using reliable monitoring systems that can be cost-effectively and comfortably integrated into the subsea environment. They are also involved in developing active sonar systems for subsea monitoring of potential security threats and tracking marine mammals in tidal turbine environments.

Examples of innovations

Key partnerships between Scottish companies with research centres are helping develop innovative sensor technologies for marine energy. 

CENSIS is working with Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult to develop sensors that monitor interactions between marine energy devices and marine life. This will improve the monitoring of activity around subsea tidal installations and warn of a risk of collision with a tidal device.

CENSIS is also collaborating with EMEC (European Marine Energy Centre) to help develop innovative sensor technologies to fast-track innovative sensor technologies in the energy sector.

EMEC has an integrated monitoring pod that includes sonar, acoustic doppler current profilers, acoustics and video that can operate in high-velocity tidal flows at the Fall of Warness tidal energy test site in Orkney.

Sensors for wind power

Wind power has been the fastest growing renewable energy technology in Scotland, with most of the power being generated by onshore facilities. However, there are opportunities for further expansion of wind energy, particularly offshore due to the high wind speeds.

Scotland has opened up much of its waters to wind farm development and is the global leader in development and deployment of deep water offshore wind farms.

Examples of innovations

Companies in Scotland have been involved in key sensor technologies for wind power systems and oil debris condition monitoring.

Oldbaum Services provides various types of lidar iterations for the wind industry and offshore wind resource measurement. Oldbaum also offers lower cost SODAR (sound detection and ranging) acoustic-based remote sensing technology and systems for wind profile information, used mainly onshore.

SpurrEnergy Ltd has developed an advanced, steerable beam lidar for visualisation and measurement of wind speed, direction and behaviour for collecting and analysing wind data.

The system can survey multiple wind turbine sites from a single installation site, and can capture wind speed, direction, flow inclination, turbulence, shear and veer across the rotor diameter at multiple locations.

Find out about the sensors sector in Scotland