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News Bits and Pieces -
May 31, 2005
In anticipation of a new federal safety requirement for passenger cars and trucks, engineers are busy perfecting a tiny sensor that can be placed on the wheels to monitor tire pressure and deliver accurate information to the driver.
The new ruling affects some 17 million vehicles each year and represents a lucrative marketing opportunity for the manufacturers of micro-electro mechanical systems (MEMS), which possess the technical skills and expertise to design a miniature tire-pressure system that is functional and, at the same time, able to withstand extreme temperature and vibrations.
The sensor is made to attach inside the rim of the wheel, where the MEMS device measures tire pressure and transmits the data to a central receiver in the vehicle. The receiver then analyzes the data and displays it to the driver in the form of numerical readouts as well as warning lights signaling a potential hazard.
According to Mechanical Engineering magazine, the pressure sensor is a high-tech device containing several components in a single electronic package. These components include a temperature sensor, voltage sensor, accelerometer, micro-controller, antenna, and battery.
“Each of these micro-devices performs a task that allows a tiny integrated module weighing 30-40 grams to measure the pressure, condition the signal, and transmit the data,” says Mechanical Engineering, which includes a report in the April 2005 issue.
One engineering challenge, according to the magazine, is powering the device. While the typical tire-pressure device contains a battery, some MEMS manufacturers are experimenting with systems that obtain power from different sources, such as an external radio frequency that transmits energy waves to an antenna located in the wheel well of the car or truck.
Another challenge is to protect the delicate electronics in the tire-pressure modules from extreme external conditions, such as vibration and corrosion. Possible solutions include sealing the module with silicone or welding a protective cover over the sensor.
Manufacturers are currently taking their prototypes to auto and tire companies. Market forecasts call for 76 million MEMS devices by 2008.
The Virginia Engineer © IIr Associates 2005