On Electronics


Laser Spark Plugs
Spark plugs have been used in internal combustion engines for more than 150 years. But researchers from Japan’s National Institutes of Natural Sciences (nins.jp) are on to a cleaner, more efficient solution. They’ve developed a ceramic micro-laser (just 11-mm long and 9-mm in diameter) with two-beam output that can screw into an engine cylinder’s head. According to researcher Takunori Taira, the lasers are able to ignite an engine three times faster than spark plugs, and because the beams can be focused precisely at the center of the fuel/air mixture, there is more-efficient combustion. Additionally, the lasers can be made inexpensively. The researchers are currently working to bring the igniter into production. They’re also working on developing a micro-laser with three-beam output.

Micro-lasers can ignite internal combustion engines more efficiently than spark plugs, resulting in fuel savings and nitrogen oxide (NOx) reductions.


Electromagnetic Suspension

An active electromagnetic suspension system, capable of increasing ride quality by 60%, has been developed in a joint partnership between the Netherland’s-based Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e; tue.nl/) and SKF (skf.com).

The system consists of a passive spring, electromagnetic actuator, control unit, and batteries. There is no shock absorber. Instead the passive spring provides springing and the magnets provide passive, magnetic shock absorption. The system is connected to sensors and accelerometers via an onboard computer, which adjusts the suspension based on present road conditions in fractions of a second.

TU/e researcher Bart Gysen says the system is safer than a conventional suspension system because vehicles equipped with it no longer roll, or sway, in corners.

There’s no word yet on when the system will enter production.

Eindhoven University researcher Bart Gysen is pictured with the BMW 530i test car fitted with the electromagnetic suspension system.


Vacuum Sensors for Brake Actuation Systems
TRW (trw.com) has developed a flexible vacuum sensor designed to measure and report the level of vacuum available in a vehicle’s brake booster. It’s specifically intended for vehicles like hybrids and electric vehicles, which generate lower levels of vacuum compared to those with conventional internal combustion engines. Because of the lower vacuum pressures—which are used to amplify brake force—the brake system must communicate with an electric vacuum pump so that adequate levels of vacuum can be generated when it is depleted. That’s where this sensor comes in. It measures the present level of vacuum and transfers the data to the brake controller to determine if more is needed. The sensor is slated to launch in 2013.

TRW has developed a vacuum sensor to help determine the amount of pressure in brake boosters for vehicles with alternative powertrains, in particular.