Signal (electrical engineering)

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In the fields of communications, signal processing, and in electrical engineering more generally, a signal is any time-varying quantity.

The concept is broad, and hard to define precisely. Definitions specific to subfields are common. For example, in information theory, a signal is a codified message, i.e., the sequence of states in a communications channel that encodes a message. In a communications system, a transmitter encodes a message into a signal, which is carried to a receiver by the communications channel. For example, the words "Mary had a little lamb" might be the message spoken into a telephone. The telephone transmitter converts the sounds into an electrical voltage signal. The signal is transmitted to the receiving telephone by wires; and at the receiver it is reconverted into sounds.

Examples of signals[change | change source]

  • Motion. The motion of a particle through some space can be considered to be a signal, or can be represented by a signal. The domain of a motion signal is one-dimensional (time), and the range is generally three-dimensional. Position is thus a 3-vector signal; position and orientation is a 6-vector signal.
  • Sound. Since a sound is a vibration of a medium (such as air), a sound signal associates a pressure value to every value of time and three space coordinates. A microphone converts sound pressure at some place to just a function of time, using a voltage signal as an analog of the sound signal.
  • Compact discs (CDs). CDs contain discrete bits representing a sound signal, recorded at 44,100 samples per second. Each sample contains data for a left and right channel, which may be considered to be a 2-vector (since CDs are recorded in stereo).
  • Noise typically unwanted but not always.

References[change | change source]

Shannon, C. E., 2005 [1948], "A Mathematical Theory of Communication," (corrected reprint), accessed Dec. 15, 2005. Orig. 1948, Bell System Technical Journal, vol. 27, pp. 379–423, 623-656.