PIR motion sensors – key to a data-driven society

PIR motion sensors – key to a data-driven society

Feature articles |
By Jean-Pierre Joosting

In May 2022, total production of PaPIRs — Panasonics PIR motion sensors — exceeded 100 million units. PaPIRs are used widely in lighting controls, security cameras/alarms, home appliances, and many other applications. More recently, they have been used in unique ways suited to the pandemic, such as to turn on displays that encourage use of disinfectant when people walk past, and to turn on large displays only when motion is detected. Furthermore, with excellent compatibility with IoT technologies, the PIR (Passive Infrared) sensors can also be used to communicate the availability of meeting rooms and restaurants, as well as record in-store movement to collect large amounts of data. While the mechanisms of PIR motion sensors themselves are relatively simple, their applications can grow greatly depending on the idea. With an extensive line-up, PaPIRs are helping to quickly actualize customers’ ideas. The sensors are used by more than 500 companies worldwide, and their performance is acclaimed throughout the world.


How do PIR motion sensors work?

Infrared waves are a type of electromagnetic wave. In fact, although invisible to the naked eye, people and animals are constantly giving off infrared radiation. PIR motion sensors work by detecting changes in this infrared radiation. As can be seen in the fact that some motion sensor-compatible lighting fixtures run on dry-cell batteries, motion sensors consume little energy. Hence, in an era in which electricity shortages are a serious concern, PIR motion sensors — which can automatically turn lights off—are garnering attention for their ability to save energy.

Here we go behind the scenes of the Panasonics product with Robert Spiegler.


Robert, which industries do our PaPIRs core customers come from?

Robert Spiegler: That depends entirely on the country. We have a very broad base in Asia because we also use the sensors in Panasonic building automation products. In Europe, on the other hand, the professional lighting control market has been our core. Especially luminaire manufacturers have very high demands on the PIR-motion sensors. The sensors must be small and inconspicuous and must have a high sensitivity. Attributes that are fundamentally opposed, but which the PaPIRs perfectly unite.

Today, however, data from PIR sensors is used for much more than lighting control. The data are used in various areas related to building management, such as which areas need to be cleaned or whether meeting rooms are occupied or not. Furthermore battery-powered retrofit solutions are also becoming increasingly important. Our EKMB series is often chosen here. The relatively low power consumption (few microamps) results in a long lifespan of the product, and the freedom to place it independent of the power supply is a real benefit for our customers. Just one example: customers use the Panasonic PaPIRs sensors for smart desking applications. And the customer can choose where to place the motion detection: on a wall to detect if a room is occupied and to switch on the light or under the desk, to monitor, if a desk is taken. And all PaPIRs sensors are interchangeable, which means that one circuit board layout can be used for several products. And that results in a short design-in phase and ultimately lowers production costs.

What are the advantages of the PaPIRs technology?

Robert Spiegler: In the very beginning, the development goals were miniaturization while at the same time improving the detection performance. Two parameters that are fundamentally opposed. Put simply, the smaller the pyroelectric elements, the smaller the associated optics can be, but the lower the detection performance is usually.

In order to combine both goals, we had to say goodbye to the previous, conventional design approaches. Therefore, the PaPIRs differ significantly from other PIR sensors. This affects the entire value chain. Starting with the selection of the pyroelectric material, through processing to the general circuit architecture. This enabled us to increase the detection performance by a factor of 2-4 compared to conventional PIR sensors, while at the same time reducing the size of the associated optics.

In addition, the development time can be greatly reduced by the customer, since the complete evaluation electronics including amplifier circuit, filter components and voltage stabilization are already integrated, and the sensors are supplied with the appropriate lenses.

We help our customers choose the right sensor so they can focus on other things.
Furthermore, over the past ten years we have strategically expanded the PaPIRs product portfolio. We offer sensors for wall, corner and ceiling mounting. The specified detection ranges reach up to 17m. Installation heights that are quite normal in warehouses.

Our customers benefit in particular from the modular product range. All sensors have the same pin. So, I can generate a complete motion detector platform based on the PaPIRs, serve different applications and vertical market segments.

For a lot of customers, we at Panasonic are the on-stop-shop solution, when it comes to sensing. The products of the PaPIRs range can be used immediately and speed up the development phase. Also, the compactness of the design opens a whole range of applications.

What makes the aftersales service of Panasonic Industry stand out?

Robert Spiegler: We select the fitting sensor with the customer and provide design-in support to reduce the customers time-to-market development. We assist on the adjustment of the detection area and provide recommendations on how to implement the PaPIRs sensor with cad-based simulations. Basically, the customer requests a certain scenario, where and how our sensors have to detect movement in a defined area. And our experts provide the ideal position and if necessary, masking of the sensor, tailor-made to the requirements. The mechanical integration suggestion is much appreciated by our European customers. And I must mention that Panasonic Industry operates almost in all European countries enables us to provide a single point of contact, that understands the customers’ needs and provides engineering support close to the customer.


What is the feedback from your customers?

Robert Spiegler: There are two major aspects: firstly, it is the quality of the product, that convinces our customers. We introduced the PaPIRs technology 22 years ago, developed in Japan, listened to customers around the world and expanded the product range accordingly. The line-up features a wide range of sensors with a broad range of sensitivities, so we are now able to pick a fitting solution for a lot of applications. Secondly, our customer value the support besides the product. From the first contact to prototyping, the design-in phase up to the ready-to-market status. The aspiration at Panasonic Industry has always been to work closely with the customer to develop the ideal solution.


What is your favorite PaPIRs?

Robert Spiegler: Hmm…interesting question. As a product manager, like a coach of a team, I like all-rounders and therefore the Ultra Slight Motion Detection Type. This sensor can detect small movements up to installation heights of 3 m. In addition, it is specified for larger movements up to 6 m. Also, it is one-to-one identical to the Wide Area Detection Type, which has the biggest FOV (Field of View) and hence a very large detection area.

In terms of aesthetics, the Flat Square Type is my favorite, I particularly like the black and pearl white lens.

The High Density Long Distance Detection Type, on the other hand, is the most impressive sensor in terms of compactness, i.e. the size of the lens and detection performance. That has impressed every customer so far, how you can work with such a small lens up to a mounting height of 17m. I am proud that we can offer the smallest high-bay PIR sensor in the world. 
This then convinces even the last customer of the uniqueness of the PaPIRs. So I don’t just have one favourite, but several, like a coach of a football team.

Robert, last question, PaPIRs sensors and the hot topic of energy efficiency?

Robert Spiegler: It is obvious that motion detectors can not only optimize the energy consumption of buildings or the infrastructure by controlling the lights or the heating system but can also lead to a reduction in consumption in many other devices. A screen or a vending machine turns on or lights up and operates, only when somebody approaches. On many levels the PaPIRs range from Panasonic Industry can optimize the energy consumption, and it has never been more important than now.

Robert Spiegler

Robert Spiegler has 10 years of experience in product management and application engineering. His previous responsibilities as new Business Development Manager at the European Central Laboratory paved the way for new business opportunities and products. The former founding member of the sensNORM association is now head of product management and development for PIR motion sensors at Panasonic Industry Europe.


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