Sensors Evolve to Satisfy CV Demands

TE Connectivity’s Mark Uhrich discusses how sensor technology is evolving to satisfy increasingly connected and automated commercial vehicles.

TE Connectivity sees an increased demand for sensors supporting the requirements in electrified vehicles. A hybrid current sensor is shown. (TE Connectivity)

Sensor technology is evolving to satisfy increasingly connected and automated commercial vehicles (CVs). As vehicle management and operation transition from humans to sensors and algorithms, the shift is driving technology development within R&D departments at suppliers of sensor and connectivity solutions. “Stand-alone sensors, sensor arrays/clusters, photonics and system connectivity strategies must replicate and expand beyond the complex and highly integrated ‘human sensor’ portfolio – sight, sound, touch, temperature, motion, force, position, etc. – to enable ‘hands-off’ vehicle operations and connectivity,” Mark Uhrich, director, ICT Sensors Business Management at TE Connectivity, said of the daunting task facing developers.

Mark Uhrich, director, ICT Sensors Business Management at TE Connectivity. (TE Connectivity)

Sensor and system reliability, redundancy and quality are “more than ever safety critical” for sensor deployment on vehicles that increasingly rely on digital vs. human decision making. Regarding the significant role connectivity solutions play, he said, “Connectivity enables remote and automated vehicle and fleet operations that permit vehicle function (e.g., maneuvering, loading, seeding), vehicle health (e.g., predictive maintenance) and vehicle application (e.g., vehicle-to-vehicle platooning, intelligent harvesting).” Uhrich provided additional insights on challenges and opportunities in the sensors arena.

What challenges are presented by Level 4 or 5 autonomy?

A dominant challenge for technology development and commercial production of sensors that may be relied upon in fully autonomous-vehicle systems is achieving the appropriate Automotive Safety Integrity Level (ASIL) performance as designated by ISO 26262 for ASIL A, B, C or D. The focus is on safety with the most critical safety assurance being achieved under ASIL D ratings. Sensors are typically part of systems and the sensor rating must support the system level ASIL rating or higher. Both sensor performance and manufacturing ASIL certifications are challenging to achieve and require long-term strategic commitments by sensor suppliers to achieve and maintain the most stringent ratings.

Space constraints are typically less rigid in commercial vehicles, but there is a trend towards offering more sensing capabilities in packages and systems, Uhrich said. (TE Connectivity)
How are electrified vehicles impacting sensor development and deployment?

Electrified vehicles are driving a new generation of sensors to monitor and manage batteries, battery charging systems, fuel cells, electric motors, transmissions, and highly integrated electrified motorized axles. We see an increased demand for sensing of current, motor position, battery temperature, battery pressure, humidity, and position sensors supporting the demands in electrified vehicles. The new sensor generation is defining a unique market where sensor cost, performance and packaging are wholly unique to electrified vehicles.

How many sensors could end up on a fully electric and autonomous vehicle of the future?

This is a difficult question to answer in a succinct manner. The sensor content per vehicle for fully electric autonomous vehicles will be highly varied depending on the vehicle type, powertrain architecture, degree of autonomy and off-vehicle connectivity objectives. The sensor array expands to include photonics (cameras, lidar and radar) at significant value per vehicle, but highly dependent on use.

Is miniaturization of sensor packages still a big trend?

Miniaturization is driven by application and cost objectives, which are important to the vehicle space. Compared to passenger cars, space constraints are typically less rigid in commercial vehicles, but there is a trend towards offering more sensing capabilities in packages and systems, compared to individual and stand-alone sensor units. Sensor clusters with aggregate multiple sensors into a single solution bring cost, performance and manufacturing advantages to customers.

Will cost continue to impact adoption of the latest sensor technology?
Monitoring vehicle health for predictive-maintenance functions is growing in importance for commercial and off-highway vehicles. Shown is an oil property sensor. (TE Connectivity)

Sensor cost is always a concern. New sensor-technology adoption rates are impacted by sensor cost with the necessary risk balance for megatrend development while the market becomes less fragmented and begins to scale.

Are these trends similar between on- and off-highway vehicles?

The trends between on- and off-highway vehicles are similar but advancing at different speeds in individual applications and sometimes pursuing different objectives. Some off-highway vehicle applications today include 100% remote piloting, for example, [such as] deep mining and surface quarry vehicles, which is also being actively developed and desired for on-highway vehicle applications. Driver assistance, safety, convoying, smart trailer management and predictive maintenance are emerging trends in the on-highway vehicle space.

Off-highway markets typically offer smaller volumes but faster adoption of useful and available technology. In many cases, [sensor technologies] need to be validated in harsher operating conditions than those valid for on-highway vehicles. Trucks and buses typically face more stringent regulations, which require longer technology development and validation time.