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Cars to Gain High-Tech Noses To Sniff Out Breaches of Anti-Pollution Laws

Dr Julian Gardner with a prototype microchip-based sensor array
Dr Julian Gardner with a
prototype microchip-based sensor array
Originally Published 1 August 1996

The University of Warwick's Department of Engineering has been selected to co-ordinate a Europe wide research project to design high technology sensors to help monitor both the level of air pollution generated by vehicles and to restrict the amount of external air pollution (particularly CO entering drivers cabins in our increasingly polluted cities).

The increasing levels of air pollution in our cities have led both politicians and drivers to take action. Drivers want to have more and more sophisticated air quality control within their vehicles and legislators, particularly in the United States, have moved to pass laws to restrict air pollution from cars. However these measures have been undermined by the limitations in current sensor technology. Drivers have found that their sophisticated air management systems are not available because sensors cannot detect all the atmospheric pollutants. US legislators have found that current car and sensor technology is unable to provide continuous monitoring of the extremely precise air pollution controls they have wish to enact into law - laws which will (i.e. California's recent On-board Diagnostic Law - OBDII which requires fault indicators on the dashboard of cars equipped with catalytic converters).

Over 1 million ecus have been allocated to this Brite EuRam research collaboration. The core of this new programme will develop new sensor technologies which will be able to provide the detailed analysis required for constant monitoring of both car emissions and air quality in the driver's cabin.

Dr Julian Gardner in the University of Warwick's Department of Engineering will co-ordinate the Europe wide research consortium including: the FIAT motor company's main research centre in Italy, the University of Tubingen in Germany, Linkoping University in Sweden, German car sensor component company VDO AG, The University of Neuchatel in Switzerland and the University of Rome.

Part of Warwick's research input to the programme will be to develop Warwick's work on its famous "electronic nose" to develop highly sophisticated sensor arrays using conducting polymers and semiconducting oxides. These ultra-low power sensors will be capable of using the normal car power supply to perform tasks previously not possible without access to power demands in excess of what was available from a car battery. These microchip based sensors will use special in built heaters and can generate jumps in the sensors temperature of up to 300 degrees centigrade within milliseconds in order for it to carry out accurate analysis of a range of gases.

The FIAT car company expects to have the prototype sensors developed by this project and installed within a million cars by the end of the decade. VDO also expect spin off technology from the project enabling them to produce pollution sensors for automated housing for disabled and elderly people.

For further information please contact

Dr Julian Gardner
Department of Engineering
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76 523695