Magnetic position sensors are transducers whose output is an electrical signal that is a function of a mechanical motion. They consist of a permanent magnet, a magnetic field sensor, and a moving magnetic circuit. Being contactless, they do not wear out. Unlike optical systems, they are impervious to contamination. With the proliferation of microprocessor control in many on-board automotive applications, magnetic position sensing becomes a crucial function, found e.g. in cam and crankshaft sensors used for ignition timing and engine misfire detection, in brushless electrical motors, in wheel speed sensors and in other applications.
This paper first reviews the requirements put on the magnetic field sensors in these applications. Five main types of field sensors are used: Si Hall sensors with integrated amplifiers, GaAs Hall sensors, InSb-based magnetoresistors, anisotropie magnetoresistors (AMR), and metal-multilayer magnetoresistors (GMR). Magnetoresistors are almost always used as differential pairs, either in Wheatstone bridges or with matched constant current sources. The two characteristics of each type of field sensors that matter most are their sensitivity to magnetic field, and the smallest amount of field modulation they can detect, i.e. their resolution, which is mainly limited by the drift of the outputs with temperature. These parameters are measured and reported here on the 5 types of sensors; the work is an update of a 1993 review by the author.