ESC Chicago and Sensors Conference, Day 1

The first day of the sensors and ESC conference is meant to be a symposium…think college lecture, but for 8 hours. It was an interesting first view of not only the presenters, but also the audience; the ones who cared enough to pay and attend for all 3 days (going to see only the “expo” for the next two days is free). These same lucky people will get to attend breakout sessions for the remaining days.

Since I am lucky enough to be able to attend both the ESC and the sensors conference, I thought I would run down the list quickly of what was being offered. Until I arrived this morning, I didn’t know what to expect from the sessions; once I stepped into them I was able to get a better picture of what they were really about.


  • Cellular/Satellite — This one I sat outside for a while listening. The idea is to have remote sensors of a pressure/strain/anything else sensors can monitor and then passing that data back through the cellular and satellite networks. Obviously the quality of service can affect data collection so I believe this symposium covered issues that measurement engineers might encounter. The scale of infrastructure required made me decide to not stick around for most of this session. Wouldn’t it be cool to monitor something over satellite link though? Like a volcano?
  • Energy Harvesting — There is interest in the sensor community about energy harvesting because of the potential to never need a power source. Now a pressure transducer that may have once needed a yearly maintenance visit can theoretically run forever on vibrational, thermal or (bleh) RF energy harvesting.
  • MEMS — Micro ElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) seem to be the most advanced topic being discussed at the conference; looking around it, seemed like there may have been a few more PhDs in the crowd than average. The most interesting thing about MEMS is that of all topics talked about in most of the other (power, signal transmission, the actual sensing), the MEMS people have managed to do it all in one place on, one piece of silicon. Also keep an eye out for the next generation of devices: NEMS (replace “micro” with “nano”).
  • Data Aquisition — This crowd was a little harder to suss out. It seemed to be a basics class, both explaining the theory and going over commonly encountered issues. I was drawn in because of my familiarity of the topic. The speaker also had an affinity for Hall Effect sensors, something I have been looking to learn more about. It was a good overview but I found that I recognized a little too much of the info for it to hold my attention.


  • Android — This one I skipped. While Android is the hot new software, I don’t see myself utilizing it unless I finally breakdown and buy a smartphone (yes, I know there are other uses); even with a smartphone, I would probably only be a  consumer, not a developer. Either way, this was the only other symposium I passed on.
  • C++ Optimization —  I felt I should go into this symposium because I know my OOP (Object Oriented Programming) can use some work. However, I quickly learned that walking in 3/4 of the day through was not the best choice for someone who needs quite so much work. While I appreciate embedded systems and I’m really at the conference to learn, I’m not looking for a job coding; I quietly slipped out during a coffee break to hit up another session.
  • Embedding TCP/IP & USB — The morning session was run by one of the executive team of Micrium, Christian Legare. Having used the Micrium RTOS before, I was intrigued by the prospect of hearing him speak; once again found myself drifting in a sea of terms–UDP,TCP, SMTP and many other acronyms ending in “P”. I decided that even though I usually am against paying  thousands to a developer for USB and TCP/IP software stacks (to be included in embedded products), it might be worth it. Seriously, just troubleshooting the software would be difficult enough, who wants to write a stack?
  • Beagle Board — I posted something on twitter about the session that made the Jason (the guy running the session) think I disliked his presentation style; in reality, I thought he was pretty good. What I was commenting on was the fact that the Beagle Board doesn’t seem quite like “open source hardware“. I hope to write more on that topic later this week, hopefully after talking to Jason. Anyway, aside from the communication snafu, I thought this was one of the better presentations of the day; most people in there got a board to continue playing with after the conference and the step-by-step linux guide was pretty thorough. While the usefulness of the board will probably be tied to the willingness of the person using it to play around, it could end up being a powerful platform. And no, I didn’t get one.

One of the topics I discussed with some engineers I met was the downside to the range of experience. At an IEEE conference, most people are assumed to be at a certain educational level. Even those who really don’t understand feel the peer pressure to fake comprehension.  But at a session you understand where they are catering to a more beginner level and there are many new topics, it seems as though each topic only gets a scraping at surface. Sure, each session had its merits and I learned some new things today, even if it was just reinforcing things that I don’t care to work on. I’m sure with the more tailored breakout sessions tomorrow, the material will be short and targeted to very specific topics.

Another thing I’m looking forward to is the Expo opening; not just for the swag either! There are going to be some live product teardowns that will expose how manufacturers accomplished their specs at the price points. While this doesn’t have a lot of direct usefulness to me (it’s unlikely many people outside of Asia will play in the consumer market for a while), the idea is intriguing. Plus I’m looking forward to seeing some new products and how I might use them.
I’ll be picking and choosing my sessions tomorrow carefully. I want to make sure I have time to get on the floor to see everything, get to the sessions that sound interesting and still meet and interact with everyone from the different industries that are attending for the next two days. Any questions or suggestions on which sessions I should get  to, please let me know in the comments!

By Chris Gammell

Chris Gammell is an engineer who talks more than most other engineers. He also writes, makes videos and a couple podcasts. While analog electronics happen to be his primary interests, he also dablles in FPGAs and system level design.

4 replies on “ESC Chicago and Sensors Conference, Day 1”

Sounds like you skipped most of everything! I get lost in a sea of acronyms regularly, and I’m just talking about the jargon spoken at FluxCorp.

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