Auto Electronics

Frost reports on automotive sensors

A new report from Frost & Sullivan, “Advances in Sensors for Automotive Applications,” finds that the availability of better next-generation sensors makes electronics one of the fastest growing areas in automotive technology.

“Increasing economies of scale have made it feasible to apply sensor-based designs that can eliminate or support the mechanical systems in place,” says Technical Insights Industry Analyst Sivam Sabesan. “Advanced technologies such as micromachined sensors have also made it possible to rely on sensors for safety applications.”

Improvements in manufacturing processes now facilitate the manufacture of sensors through silicon etching. These microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors are solid-state, reliable, and cost-effective, and used in safety applications such as those controlling airbag activation and dynamic stability.

“The industry is working on creating low cost sensors with better subsystems, thereby reducing the cost of the system as a whole,” Sabesan noted. “Increased processing power has decreased the demands on the hardware, improving the chances of lowering the cost.”

Sabesan added that the end-user market remains cost conscious and price will be the most important purchase factor in the future, followed by technical capabilities. Sensor manufacturers should try to achieve economies of scale if they wish to meet customer demands.

Consumer sensitivity to fuel costs in countries such as the United Kingdom, where fuel is expensive, also encourages advances in sensor technology. For instance, newer cars with fuel-efficient automatic or continuously variable transmissions require numerous sensors to shift to an appropriate gear.

Fuel efficiency is not the only reason automotive manufacturers look to implement sensors in their products. Another significant factor is government regulations. The need to comply with legislation and standards now forces even reluctant adopters of sensor technology to follow this trend.

In 2005, the U.S. National Highway Transportation Authority mandated that all cars be equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems by 2007. This stipulation prompted the development of cost-effective commercial solutions and several other sensors that complemented the standard set of sensors used in the last 20 years. Some of the earliest sensors launched in the mass market were the manifold air pressure sensor and the exhaust oxygen sensor.
“Government legislation has historically played an important role in influencing the adoption of high-value items like catalytic converters in the 1970s being one such example,” Sabesan said. “Another example is the introduction of fuel injection systems in the late 1970s to cope with the smog regulations in place.”

Likewise, with tight emission regulations, manufacturers will divert a substantial percent of their research expenditures toward sensor technology development for emission control.

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