Why Sensors Make Sense

Sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste… The five human senses are key to our comfort, security and survival. And yet these in-built sensors are not enough to give us a complete feeling of control 24/7. Today, a vast range of man-made sensors help us to keep an eye on things.

From humanitarian relief to defence, manufacturing, medicine, robotics and aerospace, sensors can be applied to every aspect of life. That’s why they make such good sense.

Imagine how difficult and dangerous life would be without having our senses to rely on. We wouldn’t be able to grab a door handle or tea cup, or taste whether a piece of fruit is ripe and ready to eat. Worse still, we wouldn’t smell the smoke from a distant fire, feel the heat of a burning-hot stove or hear a car coming...


Our sensory cells respond to physical or chemical phenomena such as sound waves and organic molecules, sending signals to the brain where they are then interpreted. Provided with this situational awareness, we can stay out of harm’s way with the right tools to face the challenges and perils of daily life. But in today’s world, our senses are not sufficiently sharpened to provide the level of comfort and security we need, which is why we rely on an ever-increasing range of sensors to help us to manage our lives.


What are sensors and why are they so important?


Sensors are devices, modules, or subsystems that detect and respond to input from the physical environment. Their signals are then converted to a display panel or transmitted electronically for processing by computers.


Modern cars have all sorts of features to help ensure a safe, comfortable ride. Short-range radar systems measure the distance and velocity of the vehicle in front of you, and are used in adaptive cruise control systems as well as speed cameras along the road. Electromagnetic or ultrasonic sensors help the driver to avoid a collision when parking while proximity sensors tell them how close they are to the vehicle ahead. (These also play a key role in autonomous driving.) Sensor technology is also behind smart parking, helping the driver to find a big enough spot. Automatic braking systems can even detect objects in a car’s path and make a vehicle stop for a pedestrian if the brakes are not applied on time.


Speed, seatbelt, suspension height and steering angle sensors are among the many other features of a modern vehicle, not to mention the sensors used to measure fuel and engine temperature as well as exhaust oxygen and emissions levels.  And so it goes on…


The potential applications for sensors are endless. There are already health-monitoring devices that send out an alarm signal to carers when help is needed, for example, and a really smart smartphone will know when you are in a meeting and silence itself automatically.


From humanitarian relief to defence, manufacturing, medicine, robotics and aerospace, sensors can be applied to every aspect of life. That’s why they make such good sense.

Relying on Radar

Besides using sensors to monitor their immediate surroundings, people need a broader overview of the situation around them. Erik Winberg, Senior Director of Business Development at Saab, says: “Today, we rely on radar sensors for all manner of things.”

For years, radar has been used to monitor and forecast the weather systems that are due to affect our lives. It can be used to work out the movement of clouds, locate precipitation, measure its intensity and detect its motion, allowing us to plan an outing to the beach for a sunny day and take the necessary precautions well ahead of a storm.


While Saab once produced the types of radar pictures we see on television weather reports, today the company develops sophisticated radar and command and control systems, using a whole range of radar in networks to boost situational awareness.

The term RADAR was originally coined as an acronym that stands for Radio Detection And Ranging. 


Radar systems have been used since World War II 


“The real strength of radar systems becomes apparent when all of the information is combined or fused,” says Winberg. “This is done by applying refined computer algorithms to the data, normally in a command and control centre. Research has been going on in this field since World War II.”


Winberg compares Saab’s command and control systems to those of emergency services operations. “The operator will take a 999 or 112 call from someone in need of urgent assistance, then field their request to police, fire, ambulance or coastguard service and decide whether reinforcements are required. In a similar way, we tailor our command and control systems to the needs of both our civilian and defence customers, bringing highly integrated sensor solutions that allow accurate detection and enable valuable intelligence work to be carried out.”


To protect a country, situational awareness cover is needed over land, sea and air, regardless of whether it is dark, raining or there is a snowstorm raging. In extreme weather conditions, radars are optimal for reliably detecting vehicles, trains, shipping vessels and cargo.


“This is important, especially if you consider the United Nations’ definition of a country,” says Winberg. Indeed, states possess extensive authority to defend their borders and are responsible for protecting the people within those borders. In order to do that, they need to know what’s going on. “If you can’t protect your borders, you’re not a country.


“Radar waves move in a pretty straight line, which means they can only see to the horizon. That’s why radar surveillance systems are placed at high altitude or taken into the air to cover a wider area.” And so, large surveillance radar systems on the ground can detect aircraft at high altitude up to 500km away, while radars along the coastline detect and track the movement of vessels up to 40km out to sea – every second of the day, all year around. To detect low-flying aircraft or vessels far out to sea, an airborne radar system is required to look beyond the horizon as seen from the ground.

Criminals don't just operate in one domain

Today’s threats and criminals are found in all domains. A surveillance mission can start with surveillance in one domain and then continue in another domain.  For example: if a coast guard is following a ship that then launches a helicopter, which flies to the shore, lands, and offloads cargo to trucks.


Saab’s new airborne surveillance solution, GlobalEye, can monitor air, land and sea by combining a large number of advanced sensors and a command and control system in an aircraft. It is the only system of its kind on the market that can cover all three domains.

With GlobalEye, authorities don´t need to bring in another dedicated asset to solve the mission. But most of all it gives flexibility because GlobalEye can be used where it is needed; for example in a crisis, to monitor the ground and air situation on the other side of a border is vital. Later on, it might be more important to protect sea-lanes and perform long-range air surveillance. It can also be used for command and control, for example to direct police and other authorities during emergency situations which are difficult to monitor from the ground, like hurricanes.

Keeping Society Safe

There are several ways in which sensors and radars are being used to keep people and society safe. An example is airborne radar systems which are widely used in disaster relief. 

“When a hurricane or earthquake hits, it’s essential to gain an overview of the affected area and bring supplies and other assets to the right locations,” says Erik Winberg, Senior Director of Business Development at Saab. In the three cases below you will be able to discover further how sensors and radars keep people and society safe.

An eye on the Amazon

How do you spot a gang of illegal drug smugglers in the Amazon rainforest, a tropical wilderness that’s probably about the best possible hiding place in the world? The answer: with state-of-the-art airborne radar systems from Saab.





Read more

Scanning the skies over the London Olympics

As millions of TV viewers watched Usain Bolt sprint his way to glory in the 100-metre final at the 2012 London Olympics, the tension reigned on every level – not least because of the heightened risk of a terrorist threat to the British capital. But as with any such major event, stringent security measures had been: one being the use of Saab’s Giraffe AMB radar system.


Read more

Into the age of remote monitoring

In the future, many of the world’s ports and air traffic control towers will be managed remotely using an enhanced central monitoring system, streamlining logistics and traffic flows in the air and on the ground. Saab’s state-of the-art sensor technology is already bringing a digital solution to the most advanced marine and air traffic operations.


Read more

When hurricane Florence caused severe damage in the Carolinas in 2018, and Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast of the US from central Florida to Texas in 2005, airborne command and control systems were used to help identify aircraft and coordinate relief efforts on the ground in the disaster areas.

Securing Cyber Space

While the age of big data and the ever-expanding Internet of Things have opened up endless opportunities for business, people and society, they have also created a pressing need to protect our systems, networks and information from digital attacks. Here, Ellen Grev, Head of Saab’s new Business Unit Cyber Security, discusses the problem – and the solution.

In a world of 24/7 connectivity, widely available broadband internet and a vastly expanding network of connected devices have brought undeniable benefits to individuals and organisations all around the world. But unless we protect the data we exchange, it remains vulnerable to security threats and cyber attacks.

In light of this issue, Saab is now developing products and services to address the challenge and provide enhanced cyber security.


Ellen Grev, Head of Saab’s business unit Cyber Security, says: “At Saab we regard cyber as a domain that we need to defend in the same way as we defend the air, land and sea.

How Saab works with cyber security

The ambition is to secure the Saab product portfolio from a cyber security perspective, among other things by developing a secure cloud environment where Saab or our customers can develop and host products without risking intrusion. “Our method consists of establishing fast-track loops between developers and users to be able to correct weaknesses and security threats at an early stage.”

Sensors and sensitivities

Sweden has become synonymous with innovation, with many companies like Saab offering high-tech solutions to meet the needs of today’s world. This, however, also makes them vulnerable to cyber incidents, giving perpetrators a clear motive for causing damage or stealing information and knowledge.

Saab’s security strategy

“We feel responsible for helping to keep society safe and secure,” says Grev. “The world’s eyes have been opened to the issue of cyber crime, and everyone is talking about the problem. We are now working proactively to address it in an effective way.

Companies, organisations and public bodies can use Saab’s cyber security solutions to protect themselves from digital attacks. Saab also offers them a full range of cyber security services through its technical consulting company Combitech.

Why launch an attack?

An increasing number of cyber attacks take place every year, with criminals seeking to exploit vulnerable systems – and even get paid for it. While their intentions vary, they might either be seeking ransom, extorting money, stealing information, or hoping to destroy or disrupt an organisation’s systems or business. 


“Cyber criminals might seek to undermine a company’s credibility, for example, stealing and damaging its data in order to create a negative impact on its business,” says Grev.


“There is limited risk of getting caught carrying out a digital attack – compared with a physical attack, for example – and yet the impact can be equally severe.”

“There is limited risk of getting caught carrying out a digital attack – compared with a physical attack, for example – and yet the impact can be equally severe.”


Different kinds of threats

Cyber threats can either be internal or external. While an internal threat can be mitigated and neutralised internally within an organisation it may involve, these are among the prime areas often targeted:

  • legacy systems that no longer receive security updates, for example
  • privileged user accounts with broad system permissions and access rights
  • complex networks with the increasing number of vendors, devices and regulations
  • mobile devices and the Internet of Things, with blurred lines between private and corporate hardware and information

Meanwhile external threats are beyond the control of an organisation; in other words, they will exist regardless of any action taken. These threats include:

  • malicious code, including viruses, trojan horses, ransomware, ratware and spyware
  • phishing, which involves sending malicious e-mails to random e-mail accounts
  • spear phishing / fraud: sending an e-mail that appears to come from a trusted source, which has a subject line tailored to the victim’s interests or work duties
  • advanced persistent threats from an actor who tried all methods available – from low-tech options to advanced crafted malware to achieve their goal
  • zero day vulnerabilities, which are new, leaving systems unprotected by patches from the vendor or solution and open to immediate attack

The consequences of an attack

Cyber attacks can disrupt and cause considerable financial and reputational damage to even the most resilient organisation. And following a security breach, besides having potentially lost data, a good reputation and valuable business, a company then has to absorb the cost of restoring what has been lost.

Cyber security for everyone’s benefit

Anyone who owns a connected device can become subject to an attack, and risk losing important or sensitive data. They can even become the victim of identity theft or an extortion attempt. Everyone benefits from effective cybersecurity: from the individual to society as a whole.


Growth area


Cyber Security represents a growing area for Saab with doubtless business potential.  And so while Grev’s unit is a relatively small part of the organisation, cyber is potentially one of the fastest-growing areas for the company. Given the variety of scams and the rapid development of cyber warfare techniques, it clearly pays to keep on top of them. One thing is for certain, says Grev: “Saab remains committed to making the world a safe place to live and do business. We are determined to make a difference.”