Everyday Motion Sensor Technology

Picture a mom with her arms full of grocery bags.


Family leaving supermarket

How much does she love the minivan feature that automatically opens its back door when she waves her foot under the bumper?  Or picture this: you’re heading out to the garage with your arms full and the lights are off.  How much do you love the automatic motion sensor light that comes on when you walk in?  This is all thanks to motion sensor technology.  It seems like motion sensors are everywhere!

There is whole science behind motion sensing.  Every day, researchers are finding more useful ways of applying motion sensing technology to simplify, diversify, automate, and expand our universe.  Have you thought about the motion sensors you come into contact with almost daily? Let’s explore some.  I think you’ll be surprised to learn that motion sensors are a bigger part of your life than you might think.

Common Every-Day Application

When you walk into a grocery store, do you actually open the door yourself?  Most likely not.

automatic doors

For decades, stores have been using motion sensing technology to trigger automatic sliding doors.  If you think about it, it does a better job of keeping air conditioning in.  It keeps bugs out.  And it prevents the spread of germs.

How about when you’re racing down the freeway and you spot a parked squad car on the shoulder.

cop using speed radar gun

There’s a cop holding a radar gun checking for speeders.  That radar gun uses specialized motion sensors and analyzes radio signals to detect speed.

Many public spaces are trying to reduce their carbon footprints by using sensors to control energy use.  I’m seeing more and more grocery stores use sensors to light and dim aisles according to foot traffic.  In my parking garage, same thing.  Lights came on as I walked towards my car.  It’s nice to see that people are trying to go greener.

Here is one of the most…I wouldn’t say necessarily controversial, but definitely annoying every-day applications of sensing technology.  Public bathrooms.  Toilets sense movement and supposedly know when to flush, but they don’t always do so effectively.  Sinks are supposed to run water when they sense your hands there, but instead they force you to do a funky hand wave dance in order to trip off the sensor. And then it turns off mid-wash!

While the intent of these sensors is great, I think most people would agree they have a long way to go to improve accuracy and efficiency!

What is a Motion Sensor?

A sensor measures the physical quantity of something specific. It converts this measurement into a signal that can then be read or interpreted by something else.  A motion sensor is a device that detects movement.  There are two basic types:  active and passive.  An active sensor releases energy into a surrounding area and waits to receive this signal back.   When interference is detected, it’s interpreted as movement.  Passive detectors interpret changes in energy in a specified area.

Common Motion Sensor Technology

There are many different types of motion sensors within the active and passive designations.

The most commonly used sensor is a passive infrared sensor.  This type of sensor detects body heat and movement in a surrounding area.  The sensor trips when it detects a specified amount of change, sometimes within a specific time frame.  Then, you can determine the reaction it causes.

In microwave technology, the device sends out pulses and it measures reflection off of an object in motion.

Reflective type technology transmits infrared rays from an LED.  A sensor detects the reflection of the rays.  It uses this information to measure the distance to an object or person to detect if it’s within its pre-specified surrounding area.

Ultrasonic sensing technology interprets echoes that are transmitted through sound waves within a surrounding area.

Vibration is another sensor type commonly used in machinery that helps keep balance, rotation, and operation steady.  It detects vibration or sudden impact using accelerators. The it sends signals to a control panel when a predetermined change is reached.

All sensors are prone to false triggering.  One way to minimize false triggering is to utilize dual technology motion sensors.  In this application, two different sensors  have to be tripped in order to sound an alarm.  You can customize the sensitivity levels and the interaction of the sensors.  Many sensors also give you the option to turn one type off if you want at a given time.  Engineers know that customized and unique features like this are always nice to have.

Motion Sensor Application in Healthcare

Motion sensors are being used today in several creative ways.  One of those ways is in the healthcare industry.  Motion sensing technology is gaining

Sensors used in healthcare are based on micro-electric sensing systems.  They expand the perception abilities of an electronic monitoring/detecting device with sensing and control capabilities.  In other words, they cover more ground and are more accurate.


Fitbit and similar devices use accelerometers to understand and monitor motion.  Developers carefully craft algorithms to record acceleration (motion sensing) and turn it into measurable data when the device is attached or in close proximity to the body or the movement to be measured.  By analyzing this information, it provides data that we can interpret as frequency, intensity, duration, steps taken, calories burned, distance travelled, etc.  So when we check in on ourselves, we can modify our behavior to hit target goals.

Medical professionals use motion sensors to help locate areas of the body.  They also rely on sensors to provide information about a specific body part; how hard it’s working, what might be causing problems, how it is responding to different stimuli.  As a result, they can more quickly and accurately detect and diagnose problems.

Managing Your Health

Building and perfecting motion sensor technology in the healthcare industry will continue.  It promises to become more useful, more effective, and more accurate with time.  The demand for wireless technology and wearable technology that can assist in monitoring health, managing meds, and providing preventative suggestions is growing as our population sees its many benefits. This movement revolutionizes the involvement of doctors and patients in treatment.  It also helps patients monitor vitals more regularly and motivates users/wearers to respond to and take better care of their physical needs and issues.  So naturally, we are pouring more time and money into this industry.

If you deal with a chronic disease such as diabetes, the development of wearable motion sensors is probably playing a significant role in your life.  Self-tracking and monitoring are the keys to proper care and maintenance of your health condition. The information gathered from a wearable motion sensor transmits directly to you the patient and to your doctor. Real-time adjustments and live feedback aid in proper treatment and can help prevent problems.  It also has the potential to reduce doctor visits and speed up diagnosis. This is a great reason to explore options for your needs.

Motion Sensor Application in Security

Homeowners and business owners employ motion sensors to safeguard their property.  The practice has been around for decades and is constantly improving and expanding.  The main reason people use a motion detector is to sense movement and set off a reaction such as light or sound.

topgreener motion sensor light

Consumers have found motion sensors and motion sensor lights to be useful in the following situations:

  • Sense an intruder (or teenager who broke curfew)
  • Notify you if pets enter an undesirable area
  • Safeguard medicine cabinets, gun safes, or other areas of importance
  • Activate electricity when you typically don’t have your hands free (laundry room or garage)
  • Save energy in unoccupied spaces

Passive Infrared Technology is the most common technology applied in motion sensing security devices.  Dual technology, using two sensing technologies in one, increases accuracy.  Because of this, we’re likely to see more and more devices using dual technology in the future.

Nowadays you can customize motion sensors to set off a variety things.  You can program a device to trigger a video recording to catch a thief.  You can program a sensor to activate a light that usually scares them away as well.  Or in the case of energy preservation you can set sensors to detect humidity and control bathroom fans, or to detect motion and control lights in rooms.  In order to ensure accuracy, you can strategically place sensors in advantageous locations. Then, program their sensitivity levels.

topgreener humidity sensor

As an incentive, many insurance companies offer discounts if you have sensors installed on your property.  Homeowners and business owners alike usually feel a greater sense of security when using motion sensor technology.  Peace of mind is usually worth the investment.  Motion sensors are not hard to install.  With so many different kinds to choose from, you’ll be able to stay within a budget, too.

Motion Sensor Application in Gaming

Did you know that gaming is a $23.5 billion industry in the United States?  Hence, we continue to pump thousands of man hours into designing and perfecting gaming devices.  Some of the latest and most advanced technology in this industry utilizes motion-induced controls.

wii remotes

We first saw a surge in motion control popularity with the unveiling of the 2006 Wii.  The Wii won the attention and popularity of consumers from video game novice to video game expert.  The Wii remote uses motion control accelerometers to track a player’s movements.  Its application and expandability latched on quick, and people started using the devices for more than games.  We started exercising and dancing more thanks to the sensing technology and feedback we got.  So as the audience expanded, the technology expanded.

girl doing wii fit

Intricate movement detection is constantly being refined.  Developers are designing sensors that can to detect finger movement and even facial expressions.  They are refining gaming features to detect a player’s mood and respond accordingly.  The sensory gaming community is enjoying more precise detection and integration of its users unique and customized attributes into its video game experience.

We’ve gone through several popular applications of motion sensor technology.  What are some other ways you use motion sensors in your everyday life?  Leave comments below!