Three Trends Affecting Off-Road Vehicle Sensor Designs
Devin Brock, Sensors Product Knowledge and Training Manager, TE Connectivity
Content originally published in the 2020 Mobility Connectivity eBook from Connector Supplier
Off-road vehicle sensors are tasked with responsibilities ranging from monitoring the temperature of the engine to measuring the tilt of a dump truck bed, and are rapidly evolving to become more efficient, accurate, and connected, and easier to use. It goes without saying that off-road vehicle sensors need to be rugged to withstand the harsh environments they are exposed to on a daily basis. But there are also other considerations that need to be kept in mind during the design of off-road vehicle systems to ensure the optimal integration and application of the most effective sensors for the tasks at hand. Here we’ll address three of the latest trends affecting sensor designs for off-road vehicles.
1. Combination Sensors and Sensor Fusion
In a world that is increasingly defined by connectivity and networked as part of the Internet of Things (IoT), it is no surprise that there is a focus on developing very compact sensors with high levels of functionality. As technology advances, sensor manufacturers carefully balance the need to save space with providing higher levels of performance and ensuring the safety and efficiency of vehicle operation. The idea of a multiparameter or combination (e.g., cluster) sensor powered by sensor fusion helps address these needs by offering multiple sensing elements within a single, compact package to both increase the overall functionality of the sensor and provide better information to the vehicle operating system and operators. Sensor fusion is an especially valuable design tool for off-road vehicle applications, as it can help optimize the integration and simultaneous processing of multiple measurements to enhance overall sensor performance in these vehicles as they operate in harsh environments. For example, construction vehicles often travel over uneven surfaces while hauling and lifting heavy loads. By designing in a combination sensor that can simultaneously measure acceleration, angle, rotation rate, and temperature, advanced algorithms can process the data to provide fast and highly accurate tilt and inclination data during dynamic vehicle operating conditions. By combining multiple sensing elements into a single package, the sensor performance can be tuned and calibrated to perform as a single sensor, which minimizes measurement errors often associated with disparate sensors trying to make similar measurements in time-sensitive, safety-critical applications. This data allows drivers to take action to avoid hazardous situations and automated vehicle management systems to stop or slow movements to ensure safe vehicle operation. Typical dynamic vehicle applications include boom angle measurements for area work platforms and material lifts, chassis tilt measurement for cranes, harvesters, and tractors, and tip-over protection for ATVs, dump trucks, and vehicles that rely on outriggers.
2. Remote, IoT-Based, Vehicle Asset Condition Monitoring
In industries like construction and agriculture, vehicles must stay up and running to meet project deadlines and enable job completion within tight time windows. These needs are strained by the lack of skilled operators, which has increased demand for sensors that can provide remote, IoT-based vehicle asset condition monitoring and system control capabilities. Sensors, and particularly combination sensors, that provide vehicle health measurements such as lubricant and oil contamination and degradation measurements can help operators and fleet management organizations proactively plan maintenance to optimize vehicle uptime and can issue alerts when the vehicle is at risk due to contaminated oil or lubricant. For example, a combination sensor installed in a mining truck that measures oil properties on the vehicle can ensure maximum uptime for the vehicle as it operates in remote and harsh environments when monitored through a connected IoT asset management system.
TE’s easy-to-install FPS2800 oil property sensor has a standard port connection, supports the CAN protocol, and simultaneously measures viscosity, density, dielectric constant, and temperature to evaluate oil conditions in off-road vehicles.
3. Sensors with Low Power Consumption and Digital Output
Evolving government regulations, vehicle electrification trends, and autonomous technologies are driving the demand for digital sensors that provide real-time diagnostics, redundancy for safety, and expanded data knowledge while consuming less power per sensor. The significant expansion of real-time reporting capabilities for vehicle performance relies on the IoT and directly benefits from digital output sensors’ ability to support efficient data processing, analysis, and communication in harsh-environment off-road vehicle applications. For example, diesel engine performance in trucks and off-road vehicles is impacted by humidity in the air. The maximum achievable power is a function of air intake humidity combined with an accurate air-to-fuel ratio that’s essential for improving engine efficiency and reducing emissions. Using a combination sensor that simultaneously measures air temperature, humidity, and pressure requires a digital sensor that can drive sensor fusion. CAN or LIN outputs simplify vehicle integration and allow sensors to accurately monitor humidity, temperature, and pressure, and make real-time determinations about absolute humidity within the engine to maximize power, optimize fuel consumption, and reduce emissions while also meeting several other demanding off-road application requirements.
TE’s TRICAN HTD2800 low-power combination sensor provides digital output signals for relative humidity, temperature, pressure, and absolute humidity for engine and fuel cell monitoring applications. The HTD2800 also enables the accurate and reliable monitoring of fuel cell water content to improve the performance and reliability of the proto exchange membrane.
Off-road vehicle OEMs demand component and system solutions optimized to enable their vehicles to perform safely and efficiently in a range of extreme, harsh, and dangerous environments. These needs are driving off-road sensor design trends that leverage combination sensors, sensor fusion, lower power consumption, and digital sensor outputs to enable IoT vehicle and systems management, autonomous vehicle operation, and greener, more efficient vehicles. Sensors designed with these off-road market demands in mind are critical for increasing vehicle uptime within the construction and agricultural industries, where safe and efficient off-road vehicle performance is essential.
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