Humanizing the automobile

Providing safety through multiple sensors

By Philippa Martin-King

Motor vehicle manufacturing has changed beyond recognition in the last few decades. Consumers once bought a simple chassis with four wheels and an engine attached; now they purchase a highly sophisticated motoring solution which has several computer systems working together to make the driving experience more reactive, productive and efficient. At the same time, cars have become an everyday necessity for households and the estimated number of vehicles on the roads worldwide is set to quadruple by 2050.

Choose your preferred distance or keep to your lane with sensor-controlled corrective steering. Choose your preferred distance or keep to your lane with sensor-controlled corrective steering.

Sensors are the first link in the data communication chain

The computer systems which are embedded in today’s cars rely almost exclusively upon sensors, which give the driver a greater insight into their vehicle’s performance and status. This is because sensors are the first link in the data communication chain, sniffing out raw data and passing it on to systems to analyse and report upon. Many of these revolve around increasing safety for the driver, such as ABS systems, bumper radars to help parking, driver behaviour monitors and light and rain sensors which automatically switch headlights and windscreen wipers on and off.

From sensor-based monitoring to semiconductors

Many of these sensor systems include components which are based upon IEC International Standards. These range from ISO/IEC 24753, which defines RFID protocols for sensor-based monitoring, to IEC 60747-14-1Semiconductor devices - Part 14-1: Semiconductor sensors - Generic specification for sensors, which describes sensors made from semiconductors and is additionally applicable to dielectric and ferroelectric based sensors. In between there are a whole host of other standards detailing crucial aspects of sensor deployment, such as wiring, batteries and electrical connections.

However, as the world of vehicle management has expanded, so has the sophistication of the sensors involved, and so too the extent of relevance of IEC work to help ensure a car’s safety, no matter where in the world it’s being driven.

Charging the EV through the Smart Grid

One example of this is through the growth of Smart Grids to charge electric vehicles. IEC 62196-2, which is currently in final draft form, defines the plug/socket connectors for one and three phase electric charging and the more sophisticated of these include sensors to communicate information between the car and the charging point to ensure the correct power supply is used and that overcharging doesn’t occur. 

As smart grids grow, it will become increasingly important to have standards governing sensors so as to ensure an EV (electric vehicle) manufactured in one country, but driven or sold in another, can still be recharged safely. This can help manufacturers increase their geographic reach while also helping them achieve regulatory and industry body compliance.

However the ambition for on board sensors goes much further than with single sensors such as those envisioned for Smart Grids. The SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project has been running since 2009. It’s currently conducting trials of a system for use on motorways whereby a car could automatically set its pace and distance to the car in front and, in effect, follow it. Such a system would require the use of sensors that are aware both of the vehicle being followed and of all the other vehicles in close proximity to the car. SARTRE is currently undergoing field trials; one consists of a four car road train travelling at up to 90 km / hour.

Multi-entity sensor systems such as SARTRE build upon the broad move to use sensors to make energy efficiency an integral part of our day-to-day lives. Some of these were highlighted in theJune 2011 edition of e-tech, which looked at how multi sensor systems are being applied in the busy environment of an office building, with applications ranging from variable elevator speeds to networked solutions that analyse data from around the building and adjust power availability accordingly.

Communicating between vehicles

However what SARTRE relies upon most of all is the ability of different manufacturers’ cars to be able to communicate with one another. It will only gain widespread acceptance if it’s underpinned by a common standard defining the sensors’ interfaces, irrespective of the technology, country or make of car involved.

Speaking at the recent Mobile World Congress, Ford’s executive chairman, Bill Ford, embraced this when setting out the company’s "Blueprint for Mobility".

"We need to think of vehicles on the road the way we think of tablets, laptops and phones – as pieces of a bigger network," he said. "It doesn't make sense that Fords can only talk to Fords and Peugeots can only talk to Peugeots. There needs to be a standardization of that tech."

Standardizing mobility for safe driving

Creating the International Standards to underpin this mobility and ensure car safety is just one of the areas in which the IEC is active. The IEC members, the NCs (National Committees) in each country, are always happy to hear from new experts who are interested in helping set down new standardization work and further this fast growing area of automotive safety.

Choose your preferred distance or keep to your lane with sensor-controlled corrective steering. Choose your preferred distance or keep to your lane with sensor-controlled corrective steering.
High temperature sensor. High temperature sensor.
Monitoring pressure. Monitoring pressure.