Monitoring our world using artificial sensors

Artificial sensors enable us to overcome the limitations of our human senses and extend them in novel and useful ways, using the scientific concepts of electricity and waves.

New Zealand scientists are researching ways in which we use artificial sensors. Their work has resulted in many interesting discoveries and technologies.

Sensing the Earth

Dr David Pairman and his team at Landcare Research use remote sensing to make measurements ranging from storm damage to pasture growth. Read about their research in Satellite sensing. Sensing the Earth explores other techniques – like infrared, radar and sonar – used to map and monitor the Earth’s structures, including New Zealand’s seismic activity. GPS is also used to monitor changes to the Earth. Read about its origin and how GPS works in the article Global positioning system (GPS).


Professor Dale Carnegie is interested in the development of ‘intelligent’ robots. Sensing robots tells the story of MARVIN – a Mobile Autonomous Vehicle for Indoor Navigation. Mechatronics explains the combination of electronics, computer programming and mechanics that make robots like MARVIN function.

Science concepts

The science concepts that underpin this collection of resources are electricity and waves.

Electricity and sensors explains the basics of electric currents, circuits, conductivity and switches. A second science article explains the role of resistors in controlling the flow of electrical currents.

Electricity and sensors also explains how sensors use electromagnetic waves to detect objects and changes in their environment. On the other hand, Camouflage explains how to deflect electromagnetic waves.

Take up the challenge

These activities introduce students to the science of electrical circuits.

Communicating with symbols teaches students how to draw a range of simple circuit diagrams using specific symbols for electrical components that can be understood worldwide.

Testing for conductivity involves the construction of simple electrical circuits to test a variety of materials for their conductive abilities.

Controlling resistance explores the concept of variable resistance by using a simple electrical circuit.

Challenging switches involves the construction of electrical circuits to explore the role of switches.

Sensing moisture involves the construction of a simple, effective moisture sensor.

Question bank

The Artificial sensors – question bank provides an initial list of questions about monitoring our environment using artificial sensors and places where their answers can be found. The questions support an inquiry approach.

Key terms

For explanations of key concepts, see Artificial sensors – key terms.


Explore the timeline and find out more about the development of electrical sensors.


    Published 26 May 2017