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The Future of Automotive Sensors & Switches

Tue, 12/17/2013 - 4:11pm
Julia Blaikie, WDD

WDD readers identify prominent trends and challenges with sensors and switches in automotive applications.

Automotive sensors and switches may be discreet, but they play a critical part in our driving experience. Even though drivers don’t consciously think about them, sensors and switches are key contributors to the safety, comfort, and ease of driving. Because proper implementation bears such importance, engineers are always working to improve contemporary designs. A recent survey reveals current trends while offering insight on challenges to further advancement. Looking forward, Wireless Design and Development (WDD) reader feedback suggests that the future for automotive applications lies in remote sensor measurement, self-testing capabilities, and rapid data transmission.

Specifications

The majority of readers (65%) agree that electrical considerations comprise an important focus area for sensors and switches in automotive applications. Mechanical and environmental concerns are also shown to require significant consideration, while maximum pressure and special requirements are listed as important by only a quarter of responding readers. Percent values are as follows:

  • Mechanical – 49%.
  • Environmental – 44%.
  • Maximum pressure – 25%.
  • Special requirements – 24%.

While electrical considerations are considered most important overall, 9% of readers list other specifications as important, including:

  • Petrochemical applications.
  • Privacy.
  • Cost.
  • Minimum pressure.
  • Corporate requirements.

Challenges with Integration

Among the numerous challenges engineers face in the field, two stand out to readers: signal interference and environmental conditions. Half of respondents agree that signal interference poses a challenge, and 48% note their struggle in working around environmental issues. The other options presented a challenge to fewer readers:

  • Packaging technologies – 36%.
  • Network infrastructure – 35%.

Challenges not listed were added by 7% of respondents, who offered the following answers:

  • Fault tolerance.
  • Price reliability.
  • Power requirements.
  • Protocol interface.
  • Petrochemical applications.

Design Obstacles

According to the survey, cost (64% agreement) presents the biggest obstacle to designing automotive switches and sensors. Readers also cite the following as obstacles:

  • Stability and aging – 51%.
  • Energy efficiency – 39%.
  • Time-to-market – 31%.
  • RoHS requirements – 12%.

The results make sense, as innovative ideas are rarely the most budget-friendly; technology ages quickly; cars deteriorate. These issues are key obstacles to the design process, but engineers facing other obstacles add the following items to the list:

  • Accurate self-testing.
  • Self-learning sensors for each driver.
  • Component availability.

Trends & Future Development

When asked to list the most popular trend in sensors and switches for automotive applications, many readers offered similar answers, including:

  • Capacitive sensing.
  • Miniaturization.
  • Network integration.
  • Remote sensing.
  • Standardization.
  • Wireless technology.

While readers are in agreement about current trends, there is contention over which category holds the most influence on future development. The answers are split almost equally between all four options, with less than 5% of respondents adding their own answers. Remote sensor measurement requirements claimed the most votes (28%), with each of the other options separated by two percentage points:

  • Self test capabilities – 24%.
  • Rapid data transmission – 22%.
  • Higher accuracy – 20%.

Of course, all of these areas will affect the future development of automotive switches and sensors. As to which holds most influence, it seems we have to wait and see.

This article oringinally appeared in the November/December print issue. Click here to read the full issue.

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