By using high-frequency soundwaves to detect the position and distance of objects, ultrasonic sensors often work in situations where other sensor types fall short. They work like echolocation in bats or dolphins; these sensors send out soundwaves (inaudible to humans) and then detect when the soundwaves bounce back after hitting an object.
By using sound, ultrasonic sensors can detect objects that frustrate other types of sensors and can work in some pretty ingenious situations. Here are five examples.
Ultrasonic Object Detection in Driving Assistance
Many major auto manufacturers and technology companies are testing fully autonomous, self-driving vehicles. Nissan and GM even say they will have self-driving cars on the road by 2020. Both self-driving cars (as well as human-driven vehicles that incorporate driver assistance technology) use sensors extensively to monitor road and surrounding conditions. For example, ultrasonic sensors can detect cars in adjacent lanes for “blind spot detection” and alert human drivers if a car is in their blind spot.
Ultrasonic Distance Detection
Similarly, ultrasonic sensors are also used in collision prevention by detecting when cars or other objects in front of and behind yours come dangerously near. For example, when parking your car, the sensors can monitor how close the car comes to a wall or other vehicles and alert you to stop. This works in traffic as well, because these sensors function accurately even when both objects are in motion.
Ultrasonic Diameter Detection
Moving away from the roadway and into the factory, ultrasonic sensors can help keep automated production lines moving smoothly. Consider printing facilities, such as those that print newspapers or magazine pages. The paper typically starts out in a roll; as the paper gets used, the roll’s diameter diminishes. With ultrasonic sensors, the facility can automatically detect when the roll is about to run out, so they can be prepared to swap it out for a fresh roll without losing productivity. Ultrasonic sensors will even work with sound-absorbing materials, like rubber or wadding.
Ultrasonic Sag Detection
Ultrasonic sensors can also ensure that any conveyor belts, wires, or cables that might be used in a manufacturing or other industrial setting are positioned as they should be. Cable sag can slow or stop production lines, and these sensors can automatically detect if these objects are running evenly, or even they need to be tightened. Ultrasonic sensors can function to an incredibly precise degree, which means they can detect even minute flaws or faults. Even better, particulates like dust that might be produced during the manufacturing process won’t affect their sensing ability.
Ultrasonic Level Detection
Here’s another example of process automation, this time in the food production industry. Hoffmann + Krippner makes an ultrasonic sensor with a hygienic design and fully encapsulated stainless steel that makes it perform well even when working with food items. For example, it can help creameries produce cheese continuously, rather than in batches, by monitoring milk and rennet levels in a coagulator machine. That way, it knows when to supply more of these ingredients as cheese curds are continuously removed at the other end. You can reach much more about this application in our case study on our P53 Ultrasonic Sensor.
Principle of a sonar or radar distance measurement. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Technical wordsmith and guest blogger for Hoffmann + Krippner.