Editorial Feature

Emerging Applications and Products of Nanotechnology-Based Automotive Sensors

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Increases in car production and growth in product usage have driven rise in demand within the European market for automotive sensors, a field dominated by Siemens and Bosch.

Demands for decreased emissions and increased safety needs by the automotive sector and transportation are supposed to be vital drivers of future market development. Future growth is predicted to come from broader usage of anti-lock brake systems (ABS), position sensors, and electronic stability program (ESP) in the short term, and gas sensors in the next few years.

Development in Europe is being driven by EU emissions legislation, which includes the Euro 2000 measures. It is expected that further regulations will surface in 2005, which should push the market forward. Suppliers of sensors and sensor systems are usually big companies that can produce in large volumes at minimal cost, while constantly investing in research and development.

Impact of Nanoscale Sensors

The advent of MEMS and nanoscale sensors is cutting down the size, weight, and cost of sensors and sensor arrays by several orders of magnitude. It has also enhanced their spatial and temporal resolution as well as their accuracy.

Since 1979, MEMS and microsystems technologies have played a role in automotive engine control in the form of Manifold Absolute Sensors. Accelerometers, pressure sensors, angular rate sensors, and a range of other MEMS/MST devices are manufactured in huge volumes due to requests on:

  • Emission and safety standards
  • Longer warranty periods and improved reliability of components
  • Higher performance and comfort
  • Improved vehicle diagnostics
  • Reduced costs

Properties of Automotive Sensors

It is essential for automotive sensors to survive in the environment of the engine compartment, where temperatures can rise above 200 °C. Combining sensors with electronics makes the issue of hostile environments more difficult. In manufacturing systems and products, surroundings that involve high vibration, high temperatures, corrosive chemicals, and high noise hamper the functioning of sensors.

The integration of nanomaterials into sensors can potentially enhance robustness without loss of sensitivity. The use of nanoparticles in solid-state gas sensors holds potential for long-term emissions monitoring applications. The stability and grain size control of thin film-based commercial gas sensors are inadequate for long-term use.

Growth Rate of the Sensor Market

Driven by legislated safety and environmental demands as well as a consumer market requiring cleaner, safer, and more reliable vehicles, the global automotive sensor market is valued at £2.87 billion and is anticipated to grow continuously at an annual average rate of around 7%.

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