University of Florida Tackles Electric Car Challenge

Engineers have developed a sensor that makes its own energy and could result in significantly less drain on batteries in cars, which are equipped with sensors for seat belts, doors, tires and other items.

by Kevin Brockway, The Gainesville Sun / March 18, 2019
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(TNS) — A new type of sensor created by University of Florida engineers could have a lasting impact as the world transitions from gasoline to electric cars.

The sensor, developed by UF Engineering professors Jennifer Andrew and David Arnold, makes its own energy, requiring no external electric current to operate.

Electrical energy plays an important role in the operation of today's automobiles, from starting the ignition system to turning on headlights to power window systems. Even more sensors are needed for dashboard prompts that alert drivers that seat belts are not fastened, tire pressure is low or doors are open.

The new sensors will result in significantly less drain on car batteries.

"As we move toward electric vehicles, minimizing the drain on the battery is going to be huge," Andrew said. "And you can think about all the other applications where people would want a low-powered sensor, say, if you have a sensing device in a remote area, that you want to last for a really long time. Having it not require significant power to operate would be quite significant."

According to 2018 figures, of 95 million cars sold worldwide, one million sold were electric cars. The goal for the electric car industry is to reach 30 percent of worldwide sales by 2030. That could be attainable if governments continue to pass legislation reducing carbon emissions over concerns about climate change.

As a materials scientist, Andrew said the project came together due to her curiosity for finding new ways to make materials within nanowires, which power sensors, more efficient. By changing properties within the nanowires, Andrew and Arnold were able to create nanowires with stronger magneto-electric coefficients. As a result, the nanowires produced stronger electrical impulses.

"Measuring the maximum electrical response in non-consolidated nanowires, that's not something that's really been done before," Andrew said. "They haven't been done in a full electronic way."

Andrew said the three-year project had some hiccups along the way, but came together through trial and error. Together, Andrew and Arnold consulted with Allegro MicroSystems, a New Hampshire-based company that is a global leader in power and sensing semiconductor solutions.

"My collaborator David Arnold, really drove the electric engineering side of it," Andrew said. "Allegro then poured us through this process in terms of, hey, here's the performance measures, here's what we're trying to hit, here's what we need to hit to be competitive."

Allegro Chief Engineer Bill Taylor said the company served as an advisory role while trying to suggest practical applications for the sensor technology.

"It's very exciting and one of the reasons we think it's an interesting technology for us to monitor very closely," Taylor said.

The UF Office of Technology and Licensing has obtained a provisional patent on the technology and has filed for a U.S. utility patent. Allegro has licensed the patent for the sensor device.

©2019 The Gainesville Sun, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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