Robot Sensors 315

Robot Sensors is an overview of common sensors used with robots, their functions, and their applications. Sensors provide robots with an awareness of their environment and the ability to execute tasks with greater precision and accuracy. Sensors are categorized as either internal or external and either contact or noncontact. Contact sensors detect objects by physical touch, while noncontact sensors detect objects using a variety of methods, such as cameras, beams of light, or electrical sensing fields.

Sensors collect and send a large amount of data to enable more autonomous robots, which makes sensors an essential component of Industry 4.0. After taking this class, users will be able to describe the functions of the different types of robot sensors and how to select appropriate sensors for an application.

  • Difficulty Advanced

  • Format Online

  • Number of Lessons 13

  • Language English


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Course Outline
  • Robot Sensor Integration
  • Robot Control Systems
  • Sensor Types
  • Review: Introduction to Robot Sensors
  • Robot Encoders
  • Temperature and Humidity Sensors
  • Tactile Sensors
  • Force Torque Sensors
  • Proximity Sensors
  • Review: Robot Sensors
  • Vision Sensors
  • Smart Sensors
  • Final Review
  • Describe robot sensors in manufacturing.
  • Describe robot controllers for industrial robots and sensors.
  • Identify different types of robot sensors.
  • Describe robot encoders.
  • Distinguish between temperature and humidity sensors.
  • Describe tactile sensors.
  • Describe force torque sensors.
  • Describe proximity sensors.
  • Describe vision sensors.
  • Describe smart sensors.
Vocabulary Term

absolute measurement

A method for calculating position using a unique code for each angular position. Absolute measurement is the most accurate encoder measurement.


The rate at which an object's velocity increases. Acceleration occurs when a force changes an object's momentum.


Coming from the surrounding area. Ambient temperature is a measure of the amount of heat or cold that normally occurs in the environment or space.


Self-governing. Autonomous systems can be configured to make decisions independent of human interaction.


The ability to store an electrical charge. Capacitance can be used to detect metallic and non-metallic objects.

capacitive proximity sensors

A proximity sensor that detects a target based on changes in an electrostatic field. Capacitive proximity sensors can detect targets made of any material with a higher dielectric constant than air.

Cartesian robots

A type of robot that moves along three orthogonal axes. Cartesian robots have linear joint movement that gives them a highly rigid structure, allowing them to lift heavy objects.


A robot that can be programmed to learn a specific task in order to assist humans. A cobot, or collaborative robot, is designed to interact with humans in a shared workspace.

collaborative robots

A robot that can be programmed to learn a specific task in order to assist humans. A collaborative robot, or cobot, is designed to interact with humans in a shared workspace.

contact sensors

A type of sensor that uses physical contact to detect an object or surface and its features. Contact sensors for robots include tactile and force sensors.


The main device that processes information and communicates instructions to a robot. A controller operates the entire robotic system.


A set of computer instructions used to investigate and analyze the cause or nature of errors or failures. Diagnostics tell the operator or technician how the system is performing.

eddy currents

An electromagnetic current generated when a metal object enters an electromagnetic field. Eddy currents cause a dampening, or shrinking, of the original electromagnetic field.

electromagnetic field

An area of force that contains magnetic and electrical energy. Inductive proximity sensors use electromagnetic fields to detect metallic objects.

electrostatic field

The area of potential electrical force surrounding an object. Electrostatic fields are used by capacitive proximity sensors to detect nearby objects.


A device that translates rotary or linear motion into a digital signal. Encoders can determine a robot's position.

end effector

A device attached to the end of a robot arm in order to interact with a part, component, or material. The end effector may be a gripper that allows the robot to pick up objects and place them down.

external sensors

A type of sensor that is located outside of or mounted to a robot. External sensors provide feedback about the robot's environment.

feedback system

A group of components used to monitor sensor input signals and send informational signals to the robot controller. Feedback systems provide information that allows a robot to make any corrections during an operation.

field of view

FOV. The area that a camera can see and capture in one image. Field of view is typically a fixed parameter based on the camera.


A gripper appendage with its own set of flexible joints. Fingers on a robot can move with accuracy and dexterity similar to a human finger.

force torque sensors

A type of sensor that detects linear and rotational forces applied to a robot's wrist or end effector. Force torque sensors allow robots to make adjustments when handling material.


A measurement of the number of times a waveform repeats in one second. High-frequency sound waves can detect objects.

human-machine interface

HMI. A device connected to a machine that allows operators to monitor and control a machine or process. A human-machine interface may have a touch screen or control pad.

humidity sensors

A type of sensor that detects or measures water vapor. Humidity sensors are required for robots operating in corrosive environments.

incremental measurement

A method for calculating position by increasing data values as the device moves. Incremental measurement begins at a reference point and increases from there.

inductive proximity sensors

A proximity sensor that detects metal targets based on changes in an electromagnetic field. Inductive proximity sensors are more accurate than other proximity sensors but can only be used with metal targets.

Industrial Internet of Things

IIoT. A network of physical devices used in manufacturing that contain computing systems that allow them to send and receive data. The Industrial Internet of Things allows devices to exchange data and automate processes without any human intervention.

industrial robots

A reprogrammable machine sometimes used in place of a person in a manufacturing setting. Industrial robots perform dangerous or repetitive tasks with a high degree of accuracy.

Industry 4.0

A stage in manufacturing that uses connected devices and digital technologies. Industry 4.0 uses automation and data exchange to achieve advancements in a variety of industries.


Invisible light energy emitted by heated objects. Infrared light can be used in photoelectric proximity sensors.

input device

A device that allows a human being to communicate with and program a robot. Input devices include keyboards and teach pendants.

internal sensors

A type of sensor that is located inside a robot. Internal sensors provide feedback about the state of the robot.


A device that generates an intense beam of light that can be precisely aimed and controlled. Laser beams are used for very accurate detection.

laser proximity sensors

A proximity sensor uses laser technology to create a sensing field of a predetermined distance to detect the presence of an object. Laser proximity sensors allow for safe human-robot collaboration.

linear axes

An axis that defines linear movement. Linear axes describe side-to-side, front-to-back, or up-and-down movement.

linear encoders

A device that translates linear motion into a digital signal. Linear encoders detect orientation on linear axes.


The force or pressure placed on a component or system. Force torque sensors detect various loads that affect a robot's operation.


A substance used to prevent friction between two surfaces in relative motion. Lubricants such as oil and grease reduce resistance, wear, and heat.

machine tending

The process of loading and unloading of materials into machinery for processing. Machine-tending robots are precise and often use sensors to monitor the process.

material handling

The process of loading, unloading, placing, or manipulating material. Material handling operations often require highly repetitive tasks that are ideal for robotic work.

mobile robots

A robot that is able to move through space. Mobile robots require sensors to avoid collision.


An unwanted disturbance in an electrical signal. Noise can keep sensors from sending a clear, steady signal to the robot controller.

noncontact sensors

A type of sensor that detects changes and objects without using physical contact. Noncontact sensors for robots include proximity sensors and vision sensors.


Position in three-dimensional space. Orientation is determined by the rotation around the X, Y, and Z axes.

personal computer

PC. A processor-driven device for an individual user and commercial software. A personal computer may be used as a programming device for a robot.

photoelectric proximity sensors

A proximity sensor that uses a beam of light to detect the presence of an object. Photoelectric proximity sensors have an extremely broad sensing range.


The part of a photoelectric sensor that detects a beam of light. The photoreceiver may be in a separate unit or enclosed in the same unit as the phototransmitter.


The part of a photoelectric sensor that emits a beam of light. The phototransmitter may be in a separate unit or enclosed in the same unit as the photoreceiver.

pressure pad

A small disc that contracts when force is applied. Some tactile sensors contain pressure pads.


A device that executes program functions and manipulates data. Processors inside a smart sensor control system activities.

proximity sensors

A device that uses an sensing field to detect the presence of an object. Proximity sensors can be used in conjunction with robots to help position the robot in space relative to other objects.


Energy emitted in the form of particles or waves. Radiation is emitted from ultraviolet and infrared lights.

robot guidance

Visual assistance for robots. Robot guidance helps robots to perform tasks with greater accuracy than human operators.

robotic gripper

A dexterous material-handling component that resembles and performs similarly to a human hand. Robotic grippers allow robots to perform tasks such as handling small parts or assembling components.

rotary encoders

A device that translates rotational motion into a digital signal. Rotary encoders are found in the joints of robot arms.

rotational axes

An axis that defines circular movement. Precisely controlling a robot's axial rotational increases the robot's capabilities and operational flexibility.

sensing fields

An area generated by a device to detect the presence and properties of an object. Sensing fields for sensors include electrical and visual fields.


A device that detects the presence or absence of an object, certain properties of an object, environmental changes, or the internal state of a robot, and provides feedback. Sensors allow robots to have an awareness of their environment.


A condition that occurs when a load causes an object to slide out of proper position. Slip is adjusted for when using tactile sensors.

smart manufacturing

Technologically integrated manufacturing that creates and uses data in real time to address the needs of the factory, supplier, and customer. Smart manufacturing is an advancement of traditional manufacturing automation.

smart sensors

A device equipped with software that can detect physical changes in the environment and process them as digital signals. Smart sensors contain processors and are more advanced than standard sensors that only send on/off signals.

sound waves

A vibration, or disturbance, of matter caused by the movement of energy. The high-frequency sound waves used in ultrasonic proximity sensors are beyond the range of normal human hearing.

stationary robots

A robot that is anchored to the ground by a base. Stationary robots may have moving parts, but, as a whole, they are fixed to a specific position.

strain gauges

A device that uses changing electrical resistance to measure the amount of strain within an object. Strain gauges measure force and torque during applications like assembly.

tactile sensors

A device that measures various parameters that describe the contact between a sensor and an object. Tactile sensors can detect the texture of an object.

temperature sensors

A type of sensor that measures thermal values. Temperature sensors monitor both internal robot and ambient temperatures.

through-beam sensors

A photoelectric proximity sensor that shines a beam of light directly from a transmitter to a receiver. A through-beam sensor detects an object when it passes between the transmitter and receiver and blocks the beam of light.

time of flight

A measurement of the time it takes by an object, wave, or light beam to travel a specific distance. Time of flight can be used to measure the distance between a sensor and an object.


A force that produces rotation. Increased torque puts more strain on robot joints.

ultrasonic proximity sensors

A proximity sensor that detects a target by sending out a series of high-frequency sound waves and interpreting the sound that is returned to it. Ultrasonic proximity sensors are extremely precise and can be used with almost any type of material.


The rate of change in an object's speed in a given direction. A constant surface speed ensures a steady velocity.


The process of visually checking that a product, part, or system meets design specifications. Verification during part inspection is critical for manufacturing.

vision sensors

A type of sensor that uses a camera to detect the presence, orientation, and features of an object. Vision sensors provide guidance to robots.

work cells

The defined area of space through which a robot can move. The work cell should be equipped with sensors for safety.