Every type of sensor in robots, explained (easy guide)

February 6, 2024
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An introduction to sensors in robotics

Sensors are devices that detect events or changes in the environment and send signals to the robot.  

These devices play an essential role in enabling robots to perceive, understand, and interact with their surroundings, which makes them more autonomous, efficient, and intelligent.

Here’s what robots with sensors can do: 

  • They can see. At the core of robotic functionality, sensors provide the essential data required for basic perception. This data is what gives robots the ability to detect and interpret their environment, from identifying obstacles to recognizing specific objects or conditions.
  • They can do their own thing. The integration of advanced sensors allows robots to operate autonomously in complex and unpredictable environments. This is super important in applications ranging from industrial automation to autonomous vehicles and drones.
  • They get safer and safer. In industrial settings, sensors help maximize safety by enabling robots to work collaboratively alongside humans without accidents. They also optimize operational efficiency by constantly monitoring and adjusting to changes in their working environment.
  • They perform more complex tasks. With the help of sensors, robots can perform tasks that require precision and adaptability, such as surgical procedures in medical robotics, or very intricate assembly processes in manufacturing.
  • They can talk back. In the realm of service and companion robots, sensors let the robots interact with humans in a more natural and intuitive way, responding to voice commands, gestures, or even facial expressions.
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An in-depth look at the most common sensors in robotics

They say seeing is believing, and even though robots are not quite there yet, sensors are allowing them to interact with the world around them in previously unthinkable ways. 

But not all sensors are cut from the same cloth!

Here are the most common ones, and what they’re used for: 


Force/Torque sensors rely on strain gauges to precisely measure the mechanical forces and torques applied to a robot. 

They convert these physical forces into electrical signals, which allows the robot to respond with appropriate actions.

These sensors are huge for precision tasks such as assembling delicate parts in manufacturing or performing surgical procedures in medical robotics. Also interesting is their use in robotic prosthetics, where they enable artificial limbs to grip and manipulate objects with beyond-human dexterity.

Proximity sensors

Proximity sensors, encompassing types like infrared, ultrasonic, and capacitive, detect the presence of objects without the need for physical contact.

They’re used very extensively in robotic systems for tasks like obstacle avoidance, gripping, and navigation. 

How do they work? By emitting signals (like sound waves or electromagnetic fields) and detecting changes caused by the presence of an object. 

In robotics competitions, such as RoboCup, these sensors play a big role in enabling robots to locate and interact with objects like balls or goals.


Accelerometers are essential in robotics for measuring acceleration and tilt. By detecting changes in speed and orientation, they allow robots to monitor their movement and maintain balance. 

This is doubly important in Humanoid robots and those operating on uneven terrain. Also, accelerometers enable features like crash detection in autonomous vehicles and are used in smartphone technology for orientation detection.


These sensors measure rotation and changes in orientation. They’re often paired with accelerometers to provide much more comprehensive motion sensing. 

This combo is vital for drones and autonomous vehicles, where stable navigation and balance are all-important. 

In robotics, gyroscopes contribute to the ability of robots to perform complex maneuvers (check Boston Dynamics if you don’t believe us) and maintain orientation in challenging environments.

Vision sensors

Vision sensors, including cameras and image sensors, allow robots to gather visual information from their environment. This is super central to navigation, object recognition, and manipulation tasks. 

Also, robots use vision sensors for a variety of applications, from autonomous vehicle navigation using Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) to quality control in manufacturing. 

The development of machine learning and computer vision algorithms has enhanced the capabilities of vision sensors in robotics by leaps and bounds.

Tactile sensors

Tactile sensors mimic touch, allowing robots to sense force and vibration. These sensors are applied in robot grippers and artificial skins, opening up the door to delicate object manipulation. 

Research in tactile sensors is steadily moving forwards, and will soon create robots that can feel textures and surface properties, enhancing their interaction with the physical world.

Pressure sensors

Pressure sensors detect forces applied to a robot, which is excellent for tasks involving contact and manipulation.

They help determine when a robot has made contact with an object and the amount of force applied. 

This is extremely important in applications where precise force control is necessary, such as robotic surgery or when robots handle fragile items.

Laser rangefinders

These sensors use laser beams to measure the distance to objects accurately. As a result, they provide precise environmental measurements, which are essential for obstacle detection, navigation, and mapping. 

In robotics, laser rangefinders often appear in conjunction with other sensors to create ultra-detailed maps of environments or to guide robots through complex spaces, like in warehouse automation.

Temperature sensors

These sensors detect ambient temperature and the temperature of objects the robot interacts with. 

Where are they important? In environments, such as in manufacturing or when handling temperature-sensitive materials. 

These sensors can also be used in exploration robots, like those designed for space missions or deep-sea exploration, to monitor and adapt to extreme temperature conditions.

GPS sensors

You’ve probably heard of these. GPS sensors use satellite signals to determine geographical location – something you’ve probably used while out and about.

They allow robots, particularly those used in agriculture or surveying, to navigate large, open areas precisely. 

GPS technology is also integral in the development of autonomous vehicles by letting them determine their location and plan routes efficiently.

Contact sensors

Contact sensors, like bumper switches, detect direct physical contact. 

These simple (yet effective) sensors let robots change direction when bumping into an obstacle, which enhances their ability to navigate in dynamic environments. 

They're commonly used in robotic vacuum cleaners and in Educational robots to teach basic robotics and programming.

Range sensors

Range sensors, including ultrasonic sensors and LIDAR, measure the distance to objects using sound waves or lasers. 

They're necessary in applications such as autonomous navigation and collision avoidance. 

In the field of advanced robotics, range sensors contribute to the robot's ability to understand and interact with complex environments, like in search and rescue operations.

Environment sensors

These sensors measure ambient conditions like temperature, humidity, pressure, or air composition. 

As such, they allow robots to operate effectively in diverse environments, from factory floors to dangerous areas like chemical plants or disaster sites. 

Motion/Position sensors

Motion and position sensors, like accelerometers and gyroscopes, track the robot's own movement and orientation. 

They're irreplaceable for maintaining balance, precise navigation, and control of robotic limbs or vehicles

Where do they shine? In applications ranging from robotic surgery to space exploration robots that need to navigate unfamiliar terrain.


Which type of sensor is necessary to keep from breaking a glass when a robot picks it up?

Contact or force sensors help robots grab objects without damaging them. These sensors detect the amount of force applied and provide feedback to the robot so it can adjust its grip accordingly. Through the use of contact sensors, a robot can pick up fragile items like glasses without breaking them.

Which sensor in robotics can be used for measuring long distances?

Proximity sensors like laser rangefinders, radar, and sonar can detect objects from long distances. Laser rangefinders use laser beams to calculate the distance to an object with a high degree of accuracy, while radar and sonar sensors emit radio or sound waves to detect the distance and location of objects from afar. These long-range sensors are useful for navigation, obstacle avoidance, and mapping environments.

Why are sensors so critical for robots?

Sensors give robots a “sense” of perception and awareness. Without sensors, robots would not be able to tell what’s in their environment, detect objects or people around them, navigate autonomously, or interact physically with the real world. They give the inputs that allow a robot to perceive the world, gather information about its surroundings, and act based on that information. Different types of sensors are necessary for vision, hearing, touch, navigation, and more. 

Summing up

That’s pretty much all there is to know about sensors in robotics. As they say, there’s one for everyone. And, you’ll see that many robots (just like humans) use a combination of sensors to find their way around in the world – and, hopefully, on your shop floor. 

Next steps

Interested in bringing an automated system with machine vision and the best sensors in robotics to your shop floor? RO1 by Standard Bots is the best choice for industrial businesses of any size.

  • Affordable: RO1 is the most affordable robotic arm in its class, starting at almost half the price of its closest competitors. 
  • Powerful: RO1 is faster and more precise than competitors, with high-grade robot vision systems and a best-in-class payload of 18 kg. 
  • Easy to set up: RO1 is extremely easy to use straight out of the box, owing to a revolutionary no-code framework that requires zero coding expertise. 

Speak to our solutions team today to organize a free, 30-day onsite trial and get expert advice on everything you need to deploy your first robotic partner.

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