Being able to detect and measure certain things has been essential to the development of human industry and civilisation over the course of the centuries.
As the complexity of sensors and transducers has increased, so too has the range of applications to which they can be put.
Now a report from Bloomberg argues that the world is about to be changed once more as a result of a new generation of sensor technology.
The benefit of modern sensors with smart capabilities is that they are relatively small and portable, as well as being affordable to manufacture and monitor.
Networks of thousands of individual sensors can be established unobtrusively in key areas, whether in urban environments or natural ones, allowing researchers at academic institutions and private businesses alike to benefit from the data which they capture.
By 2018 it is predicted that the global market for small, smart sensor technology will be worth $6.9 billion (£4.5 billion) annually, according to a report from Transparency Market Research.
The difference between these sensors and those that came before is that while they are small, they possess the kinds of components that make them like their own autonomous computers. This means that data can be analysed out in the field by individual sensor units before it is even sent back to a centralised system, which can speed up the process of divining meaning from this information.
WinterGreen Research estimates that while about 65 million sensors featuring computer-like functionality thanks to onboard processing units will be sold in 2013, this will rise to over 2.8 trillion annually by 2019.
With sensors being as compact as the head of a pin, this boom in production could benefit a wide variety of industries and areas of research.
A complete range of sensors and transducers could help to monitor entire cities, water systems and natural environments without the need for a huge investment of manpower or financial resources.
Experts compare this kind of anticipated pervasiveness of sensor technology to the way that applications have changed lived following the recent smartphone revolution.
In fact smart sensors will soon be synonymous with mobile apps, since portable devices provide the perfect way for people to harvest the data that is being recorded and turn it into something relevant that they can use to determine the choices they make in everyday life.
At the most basic level this could control things like the temperature of a home based on preferences which are learned by apps. But the possibilities are endless and researchers will doubtlessly push this further than it is possible to imagine over the next few decades.
The efficiency of smart sensors, which allows them to filter out relevant data from less important information before it is passed on to a remote hub for analysis, means that organisations can come to conclusions and unpack innovations at a faster rate than in the past.
This brave new world of smart sensors is sure to be shaped by advancements in this field.