Circuit board sense

UK-developed sensor technology is set to enter new vehicle programmes around the world after being snapped up by a major supplier to the automotive industry.

TT Electronics, which supplies systems to car giants such as BMW, VW and DaimlerChrysler, believes the technology, called Sensopad, can form the basis of a new generation of efficient, low-cost sensors. TT paid £1.4m for Cambridge firm Sensopad and the rights to exploit the technology in the automotive sector.

The Sensopad’s system consists of a small target sensor called a ‘puck’ that employs a simple circuit comprising a capacitor and a circuit board trace. The LC circuitry resonates in the presence of a suitable electromagnetic field and this resonance can then be detected and measured using sensing coils.

TT believes Sensopad will suit a wide range of applications for automotive position sensors, including braking, suspension, steering, transmission and exhaust gas re-circulation. TT also plans to use the technology for designed-in features such as dashboard controls, where complex combined switching and rotary position systems are currently required.

Neil Rodgers, TT Electronics chief executive, said Sensopad offered a range of benefits, both technical and commercial. ‘It’s an effective, adaptable technology that performs well in the automotive environment,’ he said. For example, Sensopad is highly durable, can operate reliably at high temperatures and gives full 360 degree position measurement.

Rodgers said TT had been scouring the market for new sensor technologies for several years. Via its German subsidiary AB Elektronik, the Surrey group is a major supplier of automotive sensors to several OEMs.

TT views Sensopad as complementary – and a possible eventual successor – to its established range of Hall effect magnetic sensors. The company hopes sensors using the technology will begin appearing in vehicle production programmes by 2007.

Sensopad is a spin-out from Generics Group, the Cambridge technology incubator, which set up the company in 2001 to develop and commercialise earlier research into non-contact position sensors.

‘It fulfilled our requirements and was available on the market,’ said Rodgers, who added that the Sensopad purchase marked a new departure for TT’s acquisition strategy. ‘We usually buy entire groups of companies, and this is probably the first time we have bought a technology business that consists only of people and patents,’ he said.

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