Ultrawideband Engine-Area Network Lets Sensors Talk Under the Hood

Turkish RF engineers' scheme paves the way toward wireless sensor networks in engine compartments

2 min read
Ultrawideband Engine-Area Network Lets Sensors Talk Under the Hood
Illustration: Randi Klett; Car: iStockphoto

A decade ago, “drive by wire” and “brake by wire” were the awe-inducing buzzwords emblematic of progress from mechanical to electronic systems. But as the number of sensors and other electronic gadgets under the hood and throughout the rest of the vehicle has increased engineers have found it more difficult to find space for all that wire. What’s more: wires cost money that car companies would rather not spend; add weight to the vehicles, affecting their performance and fuel economy; make assembly more challenging; and ratchet up the possibility of maintenance issues.

So, now the aim is to get rid of most of the wires snaking through a vehicle. And in a time when Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular communications are ubiquitous, it seems only natural that car companies would solve this problem by going wireless. But creating robust intra-vehicular wireless sensor networks is easier said than done. All that metal in the engine compartment and the vibration of those moving parts are a multipath nightmare. But researchers at Koc University, in Istanbul say they have worked out a theoretical map of nodes in what is essentially an engine-area wireless network featuring ultrawideband communications. Ultrawideband, wrote the researchers, is “resistant against multipath fading and signal power attenuation providing robust communication at low transmission power and high communication rate.”

They recently detailed their results of a real world tryout of their scheme in IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology. They put 19 sensors in the engine compartments of a Fiat Linea and a Peugeot Bipper. After running tests to analyze the validity of their theoretical engine channel model across a wide range of scenarios, the Koc researchers concluded that, “The small variations of the model parameters for different types and conditions of the vehicle demonstrate the reliability of the proposed simulation model built based on an extensive set of measurements.” In other words, the real-world tests proved out what they predicted with equations: sensors can reliably relay the data they collect without physical links.

The Koc University team says it will now turn its attention to other parts of the vehicle including the passenger cabin.

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A photo shows separated components of the axial flux motor in the order in which they appear in the finished motor.

The heart of any electric motor consists of a rotor that revolves around a stationary part, called a stator. The stator, traditionally made of iron, tends to be heavy. Stator iron accounts for about two-thirds of the weight of a conventional motor. To lighten the stator, some people proposed making it out of a printed circuit board.

Although the idea of replacing a hunk of iron with a lightweight, ultrathin, easy-to-make, long-lasting PCB was attractive from the outset, it didn’t gain widespread adoption in its earliest applications inside lawn equipment and wind turbines a little over a decade ago. Now, though, the PCB stator is getting a new lease on life. Expect it to save weight and thus energy in just about everything that uses electricity to impart motive force.

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