Automation: What you need to know about proximity sensors

With so many of us working closely with technology than ever before, understanding the machines we use daily has become even more essential. It can be hard to learn how tech works, but getting started with some relatively simple technology can help.  

Proximity sensors are commonplace in household objects, but what are they? And how can you use them? 

What are proximity sensors? 

A proximity sensor, or non-contact sensor, are small sensors that detect motion within a pre-defined distance of the sensor and are programmed to initiate required action. Their key draw is that they do not need physical contact to send a machine into action.  

What can they be used for? 

Proximity sensors are used in a whole host of everyday consumer products, from smartphones and tablets to car-parking sensors and automatic bathroom taps. They are also commonly used in manufacturing lines and conveyor systems.  

Types of proximity sensor 

There are a few different types of proximity sensors, each with a unique sensing technique. The four main types of proximity sensors are: capacitive, inductive, photoelectric, and ultrasonic. 

Capacitive sensors work by noting changes in electric currents between sensors. Inductive sensors are based on changing inductance in different conductors that pass by the sensor.  

Photoelectric sensors are commonly used in consumer products, as they work when light levels change close to the sensor. Finally, ultrasonic sensors use soundwaves to gauge the distance of objects. When objects get to the pre-programmed distance, the sensor will trigger an action. 

Two projects to start with 

If you a curious about how proximity sensors work and want to advance your skills in building tech, why not try one of the simple projects below to get you started.  

Automatic liquid dispenser 

For this project, you will need a simple infrared proximity sensor. Essentially, what you will create is similar to an automatic tap. From a simple sports bottle or jar, with a few basic items such as tubes, resistors, and a small water pump, you can create your own liquid dispenser.  

Automated haunted house 

This project helps you create your very own proximity sensor. Using a soldering iron, you can make a proximity sensor using these items: infrared LED, infrared phototransistor, 33-ohm resistor, 10k ohm resistor, black heat shrink tube, and perf board. You can then use these sensors to automate haunted houses and other events. 

Jenna Jose
Jenna Jose
Jenna Jose is an experienced gaming editor with a journalism degree and a passion for RPGs and strategy games. She's your go-to source for the latest gaming news and comprehensive game lists. Off the clock, she's all about retro games and board game nights.


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