Multiple sensors in cars ISO IEC Standards provide safety

Issue 37 – April 2012

Motor manufacturing has changed beyond recognition in the last few decades. Consumers once bought a simple chassis with four wheels and an engine attached; now they purchase a highly sophisticated motor vehicle which has several computer systems working together to make the driving experience more reactive, productive, and efficient. At the same time, cars have become an everyday necessity for households and the estimated number of vehicles on the roads worldwide is set to quadruple by 2050.

Sensors are the first link in the data communication chain

The computer systems that are embedded in today's cars rely almost exclusively upon sensors, which give the driver a greater insight into their vehicle's performance and status. This is because sensors are the first link in the data communication chain, sniffing out raw data and passing it on to systems to analyse and report upon. Many of these revolve around increasing safety for the driver, such as Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), bumper radars to help parking, driver behaviour monitors, and light and rain sensors that automatically switch headlights and windscreen wipers on and off.

From sensor-based monitoring to semiconductors

Many of these sensor systems include components which are based upon International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Standards. These range from ISO/IEC 24753, which defines radio frequency identification protocols for sensor-based monitoring, to IEC 60747-14-1 Semiconductor devices – Part 14-1: Semiconductor sensors – Generic specification for sensors, which describes sensors made from semiconductors and also applies to dielectric and ferroelectric based sensors. In between there are many more Standards covering crucial aspects of sensor deployment, such as wiring, batteries, and electrical connections.

However, as the world of vehicle management has expanded, so has the sophistication of the sensors involved, and so too the relevance of IEC work to help ensure a car's safety, no matter where in the world it's being driven.

Charging electric vehicles through the smart grid

One example of this is through the growth of smart grids to charge electric vehicles (EVs). IEC 62196-2, which is now in final draft form, defines the plug/socket connectors for one and three phase electric charging. The more sophisticated of these connectors include sensors to communicate information between the car and the charging point to ensure the correct power supply is used and that overcharging doesn't occur.

As smart grids grow, it will become increasingly important to have Standards governing sensors to ensure an EV manufactured in one country, but driven or sold in another, can still be recharged safely. This can help manufacturers increase their geographic reach and achieve regulatory and industry body compliance.

However the ambition for on board sensors goes much further than the single sensors planned for smart grids. The 'Safe road trains for the environment' (SARTRE) project has been running since 2009. The project is conducting trials of a system for use on motorways where a car could automatically set its pace and distance to the car in front and, in effect, follow it. Such a system would require the use of sensors that are aware both of the vehicle being followed and of all the other vehicles in close proximity to the car. SARTRE is undergoing field trials; one consists of a four car road train travelling at up to 90 km/hour.

Multi-entity sensor systems such as SARTRE build on the broad move to use sensors to make energy efficiency an integral part of our day to day lives.

Communicating between vehicles

What SARTRE relies on most of all is the ability of different manufacturers' cars to be able to communicate with one another. Speaking at the recent Mobile World Congress, Ford's executive chairman, Bill Ford, embraced this when setting out the company's 'Blueprint for Mobility'.

'We need to think of vehicles on the road the way we think of tablets, laptops, and phones – as pieces of a bigger network,' said Ford. 'It doesn't make sense that Fords can only talk to Fords and Peugeots can only talk to Peugeots. There needs to be a standardisation of that tech.'

Summarised from the International Electrotechnical Commission's (IEC) IEC e-tech, March 2012.

Related Standards

  • ISO/IEC 24753:2011 Information technology – Radio frequency identification (RFID) for item management – Application protocol: encoding and processing rules for sensors and batteries
  • IEC 60747-14-1 Ed. 2.0 b (Bilingual) Semiconductor devices – Part 14-1: Semiconductor sensors – Generic specification for sensors

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