I can’t recall the last time I noticed one of the automotive electronics companies I cover introducing not just a new product but a new product category. Perhaps there have been many and I just can’t recall them, but no matter.
The company in this case is Texas Instruments (TI), a very large manufacturer of analog semiconductor devices, and the new product category is inductance-to-digital converters, or LDC (L being the symbol for inductance).
The technology uses coils and springs as inductive sensors, and according to TI, it delivers higher resolution, better reliability and greater flexibility than existing sensing solutions at a lower system cost. The existing solutions they refer to include ohmic sensing, force sensitive resistors (FSR), ultrasonic, optical, and Hall effect sensors.
TI describes inductive sensing as a contactless sensing technology that can be used to measure the position, motion, or composition of a metal or conductive target, as well as to detect the compression, extension or twist of a spring.
Applications range from simple push buttons, knobs, and on/off switches to high-resolution heart rate monitors, turbine flow meters, and high-speed motor/gear controllers. Markets for LDCs include white goods, consumer electronics, mobile devices, computing, industrial, and medical in addition to automotive.
But automotive is the largest market, according to Jon Baldwin, product line manager, sensor signal path. “There are lots of moving parts in a car that automakers want to detect, and LDCs can do that at lower cost and with higher reliability,” he says. “Among the other advantages LDCs offer a significant saving in the time required for design and manufacturing. With an LDC, application development becomes much simpler.” The devices also thrive in harsh environments.
TI expects to have an automotive-qualified version available in the first half of 2014. An evaluation unit is available now for $29.