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€100,000 technology prize goes to ifm

01 May, 2005

One of the world`s most lucrative technology prizes, the €100,000 Hermes Award, has been won by the German sensor specialist ifm electronic for its efector PMD optical distance sensor.

The sensor is claimed to be the first in the world to combine a light receiver and signal processing circuitry on a single chip, called a photonic mixer device (PMD). The result is a compact, low-cost position sensor that can operate to an accuracy of 1mm over a range of 100mm to 10m.

The sensor measures the time for light to be reflected from an object and thus determines its distance. It provides a 4-20mA signal proportional to this distance. Typical applications include avoiding collisions on overhead conveyors, detecting products on production lines, and checking whether there are items on warehouse shelves.

The Hermes award is made each year at the Hannover Fair. "The distance sensor represents a genuine breakthrough," says Prof Wolfgang Wahlster, director of the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence, who was one of the judges.

To mark their award, a team of 35 ifm employees (shown above) ran more than 1,050km from the company`s plant in the South of Germany to the Hannover Fair, carrying the PMD sensor.

Other short-listed contenders for the Hermes award included ABB (for a fibre optic power sensor) and Phoenix Contact (for a Bluetooth-based wireless fieldbus).

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