Sensors and instrumentation

Development and optimisation of new or existing devices that detect and measure changes in temperature, pressure, vibration and light, for instance, and integration and optimisation of these devices into a new system or instrument. This research area also includes design and integration of new instrumentation to enhance knowledge of processes, environments or materials using new or existing technology. Research can either be generic or underpin a particular application.

Novel research in this area plays a pivotal role in enabling progress on a range of EPSRC Challenges, such as robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and smart manufacturing. We will take action to support networking across the community that links underpinning research with key application areas.

Over the current Delivery Plan, we will continue to support research that has potential to underpin all four Prosperity Outcomes. Examples include:

  • Deployment of new instruments in extreme environments
  • Remote and distributed sensing systems
  • Fabrication of new advanced devices

Due to the UK's strong industrial base in this area, the Sensors and Instrumentation community will benefit from aligning closely, and collaborating with Innovate UK investment.

Sensors and Instrumentation research underpins developments across all Research Council remits (e.g. environmental monitoring, clinical technologies, food security and smart cities). We will work with other Research Councils to engage our researchers in challenges outside our remit that require high-quality, novel Sensors and Instrumentation research.

As this is a research area requiring capital investment in equipment and infrastructure, we will support the community in identifying gaps and opportunities so that delivery of high-quality research is ensured. We will also work with both the academic and the industrial community to promote leadership in the field of Sensors and Instrumentation.

This area is also recognised as potentially relevant to Official Development Assistance funding streams.


This research area is an underpinning technology that cuts across the EPSRC portfolio and specifically:

  • Engineering: Microsystems, Control, Electric Motors and Drives, Robotics, Performance and Inspection of Mechanical Structures and Systems
  • Healthcare: Clinical Technologies, Medical Imaging
  • Manufacturing: Manufacturing Technologies
  • Information and Communications Technologies: Optoelectronic Devices and Circuits, Microelectronics
  • Physical Sciences: Analytical Science and Chemical Structure

Sensors and Instrumentation also supports a number of application areas, including aerospace, healthcare, energy, robotics, manufacturing, infrastructure and the IoT (Evidence source 1,2). Research therefore underpins both new emerging markets and established industries, and demand for Sensor and Instrumentation technology is consequently extensive.

Overall, the Sensors and Instrumentation community contributes £14 billion a year to the UK economy and employs 73,000 people across 18 sectors, ranging from agriculture to space. (Evidence source 2 )Furthermore, the UK is adept at leveraging sensor technologies and a vibrant industry - both small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and large-scale businesses - is engaging in its own research and development.

Due to the diverse and underpinning nature of this field, however, researchers often align themselves with a specific application area rather than the broader Sensors and Instrumentation community. This results in a fragmentation of the community, which in turn often results in a lack of cohesive strategy and leadership - a key issue to address.

Three Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) align to this research area.

This area is particularly relevant to the following Ambitions in the Productive, Connected, Resilient and Healthy Nation Outcomes:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

This could include development of novel Sensors and Instrumentation for smart manufacturing, agriculture and sea/sub-sea oil and gas extraction.

C2: Achieve transformational development and use of the IoT

C3: Deliver intelligent technologies and systems

This could include, for the IoT, development of new smart sensors that are ‘always on' and ‘always right' and, for robotics, development of remote and distributed sensor arrays.

R5: Build new tools to adapt to and mitigate climate change

This could include development and use of Sensors and Instrumentation in smart city management, air quality and transportation.

H3: Optimise diagnosis and treatment

H5: Advance non-medicinal interventions

This could include development of novel sensors for application in surgical robotics, wearable sensors to monitor and capture individual data, and sensors for use in smart homes using the IoT.

  1. McKinsey Global Institute, Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype, (2015).
  2. Electronics, Sensors and Photonics Knowledge Transfer Network, UK Sensor Community Mapping (PDF), (2015).

Other sources:

  • Input from Sensors and Instrumentation Leadership Council; questionnaire led by EPSRC (2015).
  • EPSRC data (spend, number of universities supported, number of Principal Investigators).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Sensors and instrumentation (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Benjamin Alexander
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: Engineering
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444410