TI Controller, Transense SAW Sensor Enhance Fuel Efficiency, Safety

As automotive tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) mandates come into effect and torque sensing applications like electronic power steering (EPS) become standard on even low- to mid-range cars, Texas Instruments Incorporated (TI) (NYSE:TXN) announced that Transense Technologies plc is using their TMS320F28x digital signal controllers as a key component in the automotive industry’s first targeted piezo-electric surface acoustic wave (SAW) sensor based systems. Operating in environmentally harsh or remote automotive and industrial applications, the Transense sensor units operate wirelessly, require no power source and are typically 11 mm by 3 mm and less than 2 grams in weight. By using the F28x-enabled SAW TPMS, braking distances and the risk of accidents due to tire under inflation or failure are reduced. Fuel efficiency is also enhanced by up to ten percent through properly inflated tires and engine drag reduction through the elimination of the hydraulic pump in EPS systems.

SAW Sensor Uses Acoustic Wave for Measurement
SAW sensors utilize a radio frequency electric field to generate an acoustic wave, which spreads over the piezo-electric substrate surface, transforming back to an electric field and re-transmitting for measurement. 32Thirty-two-bit digital signal processing (DSP) performance and high integration of the F28x digital signal controllers perform essential real- time data handling, calculation and reporting functions. The F28x device calculates the spectrum of the SAW impulse response, finds the frequency of natural oscillations of the SAW sensor and handles additional tasks such as system communication via the on-chip CAN BUS for instance. A radio frequency (RF) application specific IC (ASIC) dual channel controls RF transmission and reception.

SAW Sensors Answer US Mandated Tire Pressure Monitoring Requirements
According to the US Department of Transportation (DOT), up to 27 percent of passenger cars and 33 percent of light trucks operate with under inflated tires, resulting in an estimated 23,000 crashes and 535 fatalities each year. As part of the November 2000 enacted Transportation, Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act, – which affects all light motor vehicles registered after September 1, 2007, – TPMS technology must alert drivers of significant under-inflation of their tires.

Most existing TPMS are direct active systems utilizing a silicon micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS)-based sensor inside each tire powered by a battery. Pressure and temperature information is transmitted by radio from each of the wheels to an electronic control unit (ECU) and displayed as either a number or a warning indicator. Batteries inside tires add weight, have limited life and cannot be replaced. With 1.2 billion tires sold annually, this waste represents an increasing environmental hazard. The passive Transense SAW sensor incorporates a three element die within a small gastight capsule. Pressure is transmitted via a diaphragm to deform the die and mechanically strain one of the elements, while all three elements see thermal strains. The sensor is interrogated by an RF signal – no battery is required – first exciting, then transmitting the three resonant SAW frequencies from which independent pressure and temperature are subsequently determined.

Electronic Power Steering Becoming Standard on Many Cars
By 2010 half of all the cars sold in Europe are projected to be equipped with electronic power steering (EPS) systems that reduce both installation and production time for manufacturers and save fuel and maintenance costs for consumers. A vital part of the EPS control system is a torque sensor that measures the driver steering input. Existing EPS systems typically employ potentiometers or optical transducers mounted on a length of steering shaft with reduced section to increase local twist and hence measurement sensitivity. This approach tends to reduce driver feel and increases the sensor production cost.

Transense SAW-based sensors, positioned at +/-45° to the shaft axis, provide direct measurement of torque rather than position, without the need to make expensive modifications to the steering column. When torque is applied to the shaft, one of the SAW resonators compresses while the other extends, leading to a combined frequency shift proportional to the applied torque. The RF signal transmits between rotating and stationary parts of the assembly via a non-contact coupled transmission line. With the exception of the SAW sensor, no electronic components are mounted on the shaft, maintaining driver feel and keeping costs low.

Switching from a hydraulic steering system to an electromechanical model eliminates the constant drag on the engine while the reduced weight contributes to overall fuel economy; estimates indicate that EPS leads to a fuel economy improvement of approximately three to four percent. TI’s F28x controllers offer high-performance and real-time processing required to manage safety critical automotive motor control applications such as EPS.

DSP Performance and TI Support Are Key
“We needed a device with the high performance, integration and price points that could only be found in the F28x controllers,” stated Dr Ray Lohr, Transense Technologies’ Technical Director “The robust, easy to use development tools and the hands on support that we got from TI provided were also crucial.”

TI’s F28x controllers offer 32-bit DSP performance combined with the peripheral integration and ease-of-use of an microcontroller (MCU). All F28x-based devices feature a 32-bit wide data path for superior performance and mixed 16/32-bit instruction set for improved code density. These controllers offer exceptional system integration by providing complete control system capabilities from signal input through the on-chip 12-bit analog to digital converter (ADC), quadrature encoder pulse (QEP) interfaces, and timer captures and compares through signal output with up to 10 independent pulse width modulation (PWM) channels with 150 picosecond (ps) resolution. Depending on the device, communication interfaces include CAN, I2C, UART and SPI ports. The device can be interfaced to one of TI’s automotive-qualified SN65HVD1040-Q1 or SN65HVD1050-Q1 CAN transceivers, which offer industry-leading electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection of up to +/- 8 kV (human body model).

TI Enables Innovation with Broad Range of Controllers
From ultra-low-power MSP430 and 32-bit general purpose TMS470 ARM7(R) family-based MCUs to high performance TMS320C2000 digital signal controllers, TI offers designers the broadest range of embedded control solutions. Designers can also accelerate their design to market by tapping into TI’s complete software and hardware tools, extensive third party offerings and technical support.

About Transense Technologies, plc
With over 20 granted patents and 40 patent applications Transense Technologies is a technology transfer company that develops Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW), wireless, batteryless, sensor systems for the automotive industry.

About Texas Instruments
Texas Instruments Incorporated provides innovative DSP and analog technologies to meet our customers’ real world signal processing requirements. In addition to Semiconductor, the company includes the Education Technology business. TI is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and has manufacturing, design or sales operations in more than 25 countries. Texas Instruments is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol TXN.