However, existing piezoelectric sensors cannot withstand high temperatures, a requirement for electrical and electronic equipment in vehicles. Toshimi Nagase and colleagues wanted to develop flexible, heat-resistant piezoelectric sheet sensors that could be embedded in a vehicle's seat to monitor the driver's posture.
The researchers prepared zinc oxide-based films directly on a polyimide surface and then screen-printed a silver paste on both sides to obtain a piezoelectric sheet. They connected a coaxial cable to detect changes in electrical charge with pressure and then folded the sheet in half around the cable. The sensor sheet resisted heating up to 250 F, with no changes in its properties. After showing that the sensor could discriminate changes in mechanical load, the team placed a sensor in the back of a chair. By detecting a seated person's slight body movements, the sensor allowed the researchers to calculate the person's respiration and pulse rates. Two other sensors attached to the seat of a chair could sense when a person leaned left or right with their upper body, which could indicate drowsiness.
The researchers say that in the future, a monitoring system based on the sensors might detect changes in vital signs or body posture, triggering a self-driving car to find a safe location and then stop. The vehicle could also contact emergency healthcare providers, depending on the situation. To get to that point, the next step is to test the piezoelectric sensors in a car, where vehicle motions and vibrations will contribute to background noise in the measurements, the team says.