New regulations have had both negative and positive influences on developers and manufacturers of these products. Examples of regulations that are driving sensor technologies include the adoption of vehicle emission standards across the United States and the addition of a tire pressure monitoring rule for all passenger cars beginning with the 2008 model year that was released by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2005.
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Concerning emerging technologies, the most noteworthy are those related to delivery of information generated by smart sensors. The move from wired to wireless and network sensor technologies is a notable development, as is the Zigbee standard for wireless sensor networks that has the potential to provide cost-effective efficient wireless mesh network sensor systems. Cutting-edge technologies on energy harvesting to power wireless sensor nodes, eliminating the need to replace batteries in widely distributed sensors, could also be big news in the future.
Some specific examples of recent developments in automotive pressure, temperature and flow sensor technologies include sensors that measure and/or control fuel injector pressure and throttle valves. A leading European developer recently received a patent for monitoring oil temperature in internal combustion engines. In addition to new tire pressure sensors that are emerging to meet new regulations, a variety of sensors have been developed to control specific safety features such as air bags.
A major challenge for sensor technology, including smart sensors, lies in the enactment of the European Union (EU) Reduction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS). As sensors, particularly the advanced variety, fall under the broad category labeled ‘electronic products’ they are highly regulated as of July 1, 2006 under the EU’s RoHS directive aimed at eliminating hazardous components in electronic devices. This includes lead traditionally used in piezo-ceramic micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS)-produced pressure sensors.
“RoHS is the most influential driver for the development of suitable lead-free technologies, an effort which is proving significantly costlier to the industries involved than was originally anticipated,” says Technical Insights Research Analyst Miriam C. Nagel. “The new rules are likely to be only the beginning of pending regulations on the use of lead and other toxic chemicals in electronic devices being put forth in China, Japan, South Korea, Argentina, Canada and in some states in the United States.”
In response to this challenge, researchers around the globe are scrambling to develop alternative technologies to lead-based solders and piezo-ceramic sensors. While the automotive industry in Europe has appealed for an extension of existing exemptions to be reviewed in 2007/2008, the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiatives, an industry consortium devoted to solving supply chain issues, is addressing technology developments and integration challenges for lead-free technologies.
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