Real-Time Trailer Monitoring System

Dean Boman, a retired electrical engineer and spacecraft communications systems designer, noticed a problem during vacations towing the family’s RV trailer—tire blowouts.

“In every case, there were very subtle changes in the trailer handling in the minutes prior to the blowouts, but the changes were subtle enough to go unnoticed,” he says in his article appearing in January’s Circuit Cellar magazine.

So Boman, whose retirement hobbies include embedded system design, built the trailer monitoring system (TMS), which monitors the vibration of each trailer tire, displays the

Figure 1—The Trailer Monitoring System consists of the display unit and a remote data unit (RDU) mounted in the trailer. The top bar graph shows the right rear axle vibration level and the lower bar graph is for left rear axle. Numbers on the right are the axle temperatures. The vertical bar to the right of the bar graph is the driver-selected vibration audio alarm threshold. Placing the toggle switch in the other position  displays the front axle data.

Photo 1 —The Trailer Monitoring System consists of the display unit and a remote data unit (RDU) mounted in the trailer. The top bar graph shows the right rear axle vibration level and the lower bar graph is for left rear axle. Numbers on the right are the axle temperatures. The vertical bar to the right of the bar graph is the driver-selected vibration audio alarm threshold. Placing the toggle switch in the other position displays the front axle data.

information to the driver, and sounds an alarm if tire vibration or heat exceeds a certain threshold. The alarm feature gives the driver time to pull over before a dangerous or damaging blowout occurs.

Boman’s article describes the overall layout and operation of his system.

“The TMS consists of accelerometers mounted on each tire’s axles to convert the gravitational (g) level vibration into an analog voltage. Each axle also contains a temperature sensor to measure the axle temperature, which is used to detect bearing or brake problems. Our trailer uses the Dexter Torflex suspension system with four independent axles supporting four tires. Therefore, a total of four accelerometers and four temperature sensors were required.

“Each tire’s vibration and temperature data is processed by a remote data unit (RDU) that is mounted in the trailer. This unit formats the data into RS-232 packets, which it sends to the display unit, which is mounted in the tow vehicle.”

Photo 1 shows the display unit. Figure 1 is the complete system’s block diagram.

Figure 1—This block diagram shows the remote data unit accepting data from the accelerometers and temperature sensors and sending the data to the display unit, which is located in the tow vehicle for the driver display.

Figure 1—This block diagram shows the remote data unit accepting data from the accelerometers and temperature sensors and sending the data to the display unit, which is located in the tow vehicle for the driver display.

The remote data unit’s (RDU’s) hardware design includes a custom PCB with a Microchip Technology PIC18F2620 processor, a power supply, an RS-232 interface, temperature sensor interfaces, and accelerometers. Photo 2 shows the final board assembly. A 78L05 linear regulator implements the power supply, and the RS-232 interface utilizes a Maxim Integrated MAX232. The RDU’s custom software design is written in C with the Microchip MPLAB integrated development environment (IDE).

The remote data unit’s board assembly is shown.

Photo 2—The remote data unit’s board assembly is shown.

The display unit’s hardware includes a Microchip Technology PIC18F2620 processor, a power supply, a user-control interface, an LCD interface, and an RS-232 data interface (see Figure 1). Boman chose a Hantronix HDM16216H-4 16 × 2 LCD, which is inexpensive and offers a simple parallel interface. Photo 3 shows the full assembly.

The display unit’s completed assembly is shown with the enclosure opened. The board on top is the LCD’s rear view. The board on bottom is the display unit board.

Photo 3—The display unit’s completed assembly is shown with the enclosure opened. The board on top is the LCD’s rear view. The board on bottom is the display unit board.

Boman used the Microchip MPLAB IDE to write the display unit’s software in C.

“To generate the display image, the vibration data is first converted into an 11-element bar graph format and the temperature values are converted from Centigrade to Fahrenheit. Based on the toggle switch’s position, either the front or the rear axle data is written to the LCD screen,” Boman says.

“To implement the audio alarm function, the ADC is read to determine the driver-selected alarm level as provided by the potentiometer setting. If the vibration level for any of the four axles exceeds the driver-set level for more than 5 s, the audio alarm is sounded.

“The 5-s requirement prevents the alarm from sounding for bumps in the road, but enables vibration due to tread separation or tire bubbles to sound the alarm. The audio alarm is also sounded if any of the temperature reads exceed 160°F, which could indicate a possible bearing or brake failure.”

The comprehensive monitoring gives Boman peace of mind behind the wheel. “While the TMS cannot prevent tire problems, it does provide advance warning so the driver can take action to prevent serious damage or even an accident,” he says.

For more details about Boman’s project, including RDU and display unit schematics, check out the January issue.

Linear Regulator with Current and Temperature Monitor Outputs

Linear Technology Corp

Linear Technology Corp

The LT3081 is a rugged 1.5-A wide input voltage range linear regulator with key usability, monitoring, and protection features. The device has an extended safe operating area (SOA) compared to existing regulators, making it well suited for high input-to-output voltage and high output current applications where older regulators limit the output.

The LT3081 uses a current source reference for single-resistor output voltage settings and output adjustability down to ”0.” A single resistor can be used to set the output current limit. This regulator architecture, combined with low-millivolt regulation, enables multiple ICs to be easily paralleled for heat spreading and higher output current. The current from the device’s current monitor can be summed with the set current for line-drop compensation, where the LT3081’s output increases with current to compensate for line drops.

The LT3081 achieves line and load regulation below 2 mV independent of output voltage and features a 1.2-to-40-V input voltage range. The device is well suited for applications requiring multiple rails. The output voltage is programmable with a single resistor from 0 to 38.5 V with a 1.2-V dropout. The on-chip trimmed 50-µA current reference is ±1% accurate. The regulation, transient response, and output noise (30 µVRMS) are independent of output voltage due to the device’s voltage follower architecture.

Two resistors are used to configure the LT3081 as a two-terminal current source. Input or output capacitors for stability are optional in either linear regulator or current-source operation mode. The LT3081 provides several monitoring and protection functions. A single resistor is used to program the current limit, which is accurate to ±10%. Monitor outputs provide a current output proportional to temperature (1 µA/°C) and output current (200 µA/A), enabling easy ground-based measurement. The current monitor can compensate for cable drops. The LT3081’s internal protection circuitry includes reverse-input protection, reverse-current protection, internal current limiting, and thermal shutdown.

A variety of grades/temperature ranges are offered including: the E and  I grades (–40°C to 125°C), the H grade (–40°C to 150°C), and the high-reliability MP grade (–55°C to 50°C). Pricing for the E-grade starts at $2.60 each in 1,000-piece quantities.

Linear Technology Corp.
www.linear.com