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Measurement Specialties, Inc.

Vibration & Shock Sensors Design Center Aliso Viejo, CA 92656 949-716-5377

Accelerometer Systems with Built-in Testing H.V. Allen, S.C. Terry, D.W. de Bruin-IC Sensors, Milpitas, CA

The ability to test sensors in the field without removing them from service is increasingly being sought as a way to assure ultimate reliability of the sensor sub-system. A piezoresisrive accelerometer is presented which provides such a feature.

Two issues in ultra-high reliability applications, such as safe-and-arming, are whether the accelerometer is free and working and whether the device is broken. A unique solution to these questions has been designed and implemented in a piezoresistive accelerometer; this approach allows testing of the device by electrostatic deflection of the mass. This represents a new class of sensors which are "Smart" sensors in that they can accommodate recalibration in the field, even though they may not contain circuitry on the sensor to allow storage of revised calibration information. Other examples of these new "Smart" sensors are magnetic field sensors with integrated current loops.

A number of key advantages result from this testable configuration for the accelerometer. The spring constants of the device may vary from unit to unit or over temperature as do the piezoresistive coefficients over temperature; however, as long as the voltage and initial separation gap are held constant for the electrostatic self-test, the output will be proportional to a given acceleration. Applications of the self testing technique are in temperature compensation, testability, and uni-directional force-balance applications.


Accelerometers represent a new area for silicon sensors; with this new area come new problems. Historically, sensors built in silicon have been rated at 3 to 5 times the normal full scale range. Thus, a manufacturer which produces a 1 bar pressure sensor will rate the device to 3 to 5 bar without rupture. For acceleration, this limit is impossibly restrictive. It is common for virtually all sensors to experience 300 to 400 g's of acceleration when a package Ellis from a bench top. For a 2 g

device, this fall represents a 150 to 200 times over-force, The early silicon accelerometers I were not protected against such shocks and thus were considered fragile and easily damaged.

In such applications as armament or air-bag deployment, the accelerometer represents the primary sensor and its failure to work could threaten the safety of the user. Under these conditions, early warning of sensor failure is an almost mandatory feature. Two modes of failure are possible; first is that the device has broken due to extreme force and the second is that motion of the seismic mass has been obstructed and the device no longer deflects with acceleration. The first failure mode can be detected by routing the wiring for the sensing elements across all supports and looking for opens in the resultant signal loops. The second mode is optimally sensed by creating a force which acts on the mass and causes the mass to deflect as it would under normal acceleration. Using electrostatic attraction between the mass and a fixed reference electrode provides such a force and allows verification of operation.


Current piezoresistive accelerometers are fabricated using basically one of two support structures. The first is a simply supported cantilever beam device while the alternative is a doubly supported device. The differences in displacement versus acceleration are depicted in Figure 1. The double cantilever mass moves as a piston when subjected to normal acceleration; this structure maintains parallelism between the mass surface and the frame surface. The single cantilever operates in a pendulum type of displacement mode where the center of mass of the rigid mass swings along an arc. For simplicity, the flexures or springs are generally on the surface of the silicon while the center of mass of the accelerometer is below the surface. Under these conditions, the doubly supported cantilever, when subject to lateral loading, will

I. Roylance, L.M., Angell, J .13., "A batch-fabricated silicon accelerometer", IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices, Vol. ED-26, NO. 12,1979, P 1911.

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Accelerometer Systems with Built-in Testing

Figure 1. Single Cantilever Accelerometer Cross-section with (top) and without (bottom) acceleration.

By contrast, the singly supported structure will produce an output as the pendulum swings upward. It is known that these effects can be compensated for by aligning the center of

rotation of the single cantilever with the center of mass [I ,4]. Typically, for silicon cantilever devices, this angular error is in the 3 to 8° range. Both canting the die in the package by this angle and adding additional seismic mass to the top, using, for instance, a gold wire bond ball or plated up gold, have been used to reduce this problem.

Figure 2. Doubly-supported Cantilever Accelerometer Cross-section with (top) and without (bottom) acceleration.

rotate about the center of mass moving one support up and one support down as shown in Figure 3. By cross-coupling the sensing resistors on the srructurc.rv' the doubly supported structure will show minimal off-axis output signal.

Figure 3. Doubly-supported Cantilever Accelerometer Cross-section with (top) and without (bottom) acceleration.

2. Sandmaicr, H. Kuhl, K., Obermeier, E. "A silicon based accelerometer with cross acceleration sensitivity compenJune 1987, p. 399.

S., "A Miniature Silicon Accelerometer with built-in damping", Technical DiQ;est, JEEE Solid-State Sensor and Actuator

Workshop, IEEE Cat No. 88TFI021 P 114.


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Neither structure by itself is capable of surviving a 20() times overforce. Because of that, various manufacturers have investigated a number of techniques to prevent excessive motion. For the double cantilever device, a cap placed above the mass works well as is shown in Figure 4.4,5 This cap provides over-force stops as well as providing viscous airdamping "; a series of narrow slits between the mass and the

Accelerometer Systems with Built-in Testing

frame will also serve to produce an air damped device.6 In either case, the narrow gap or slit introduces a significant concern with regards to particulate contamination. Integrated caps such as depicted in Figure 4 have the advantage that the critical gap can be sealed from particulates at wafer level assembly. Structures without such a cap are more prone to dirt in the package.

Figure 4. Capped Accelerometer Cross-section showing over-force stops and self-test electrode.

This capping of the accelerometer, and particularly the doubly supported cantilever makes possible the formation of an electrode on the cap opposite the silicon mass. By applying a voltage on this electrode to deflect the mass, a force is created on the mass which cannot be differentiated from that of an acceleration. The cap electrode is brought out on the same surface as the other bond pads for the Wheatstone bridge by running metal hom the top cap surface onto the top of the middle silicon substrate.


Resting position

of Mass ...__ of Mass

Figure 5. Self-test cross-section to compute forces


The self test feature provides two benefits. The first is that the user can confirm that the mass is fl-ee to respond in critical operating conditions; this is a simple confidence check. Second, the self test provides a known force applied to the mass which cannot be differentiated from an acceleration force. Hence, using this electrostatic force, the accelerometer can be calibrated over temperature or over time. The basic design tradcoffs in adapting the accelerometer described above for self testing are presented below, based on Figure 5.

Electrostatic Deflection

The accelerometer's operation is based on simple deflection equations. The sum of all forces acting on a proof mass is zero:

o =:»: 9.8

( 1 )

where: m 'B is the gravitational or acceleration force (acceleration il\q),!?S -x) "S AX" is the restoring force

provided by the springs, and is the electrostatic force:

0.511 eA (2)

4. Suloff, R.E., Warren. K. 0., Solid State Silicon Accelerometer, Air Force Armament Laboratories, United States Air Force, Eglin Air Force Base Florida, April 1985.

5. Allen, H.V., Terry, S.c., dcllruin, D.VV., "Accelerometer Systems with Sclfrcsrablc Features", Sensors and Actuators, (to be published Fall, 1989).

6. Barth, P.W., Pourahmadi, Mayer, R., Povdock, J., Petersen, K., "A Monolithic Silicon Accelerometer with integral air damping and ovcrrange protection", Technical Digest,IEEE Solid-state SensoL;md Actuator WorkSlv)J2, IEEE Cat No. 88'1'1-10215-4, p 35.

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Accelerometer Systems with Built-in Testing

where: V is the applied voltage between the electrodes, A is the electrode area, and e is the dielectric constant of the damping media.

If the electrostatic force is set equal to zero, then the displacement, ~, is proportional to acceleration with the proportionality constant being Fn/I<:;. Because the piezoresistors transduce stress in the springs and stress and strain are directly related by Young's Modulus, displacement can be derived by measuring the change in output voltage of the Wheatstone bridge; this mode represents the standard accelerometer without a self testing feature.

If an electrostatic force is applied, Equation I becomes non-linear:

() = mg9.8


For small deflections (L\.x/x <59{l), Ax can be neglected compared with X(h because the electrostatic force will only be modulated by the change in gap spacing introducing an error of less than 10l){l. Typically, for a 50 g device with a 5 urn gap between the mass and electrode, electrostatic deflection is in the range of 3 (Xl full scale with a resultant ideal error of 5.9%. It should be noted that the non-ideality is a concern from a bulk manufacturing standpoint; however, for a user, even a 50% deflection would not be of substantial concern because the force is known and reproducible. A plot of the deflection force error for large electrostatic forces is shown in Figure 6 and indicates that as the fractional displacement approaches one, errors become substantial.

'" 1.6
'" 1.4
w 1.2 Figure 6.

Fractional Displacement

Effective Acceleration term versus fractional displacement (/'I.xjxo).


Applying a voltage V to the electrode corresponds to subjecting the mass to an acceleration of:

gC/CC1ro :::::::


assuming small deflections. This force depends only on the applied voltage and the geometry, and is essentially independent of temperature and sensitivity of the device, making it suitable for calibration purposes.

The single cantilever structure can also have a self-test option added if the device has either a top or bottom cap. Under these conditions, however, the response is not as linear as is the double cantilever response because the average force is a complex function of spacing. While the quad-support moves as a piston towards the fixed plate, the single cantilever structures move in an arc, creating a move complex displacement versus force curve.

Test Results

A feature of this device structure is that the part can be checked over a large temperature range to allow calibration. Using this approach, data was obtained on an accelerometer with built-in self-test. The raw sensitivity of the accelerometer over temperature (-25 to + 1000 C) was measured and the output due to electrostatic force was tabularized for a fixed applied electrode voltage. A normalized sensitivity was computed, as was the relative error from 25°C. The normalized sensitivity is defined as:

sensitivity at temperature

sensitivity per electrodejiJrce at temperature sensitivity at 25°C


sensitiv ity per electrode [o rce at 25°C

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>- 1.2
c: 1.1
.!::! 1.0
z 0.9
-25 0 a Normalized Sensitivity

• Normalized Electrostatic Sensitivity III Normalized Self-Test

Sensitivity compensated using the Self-test feature






Temperature (DC)

Figure 7. Performance of the Self-testable accelerometer showing temperature compensation over 150°C. Normalized sensitivity of the uncompensated part is shown in the light box data. The ratio of the normalized uncompensated part to that of the sensitivity measured by self-testing produces the line indicated by the heavy boxes

Total error was less than 1.6(YrJ for an accelerometer with an uncompensated temperature error of + 28% to -17%. Figure 7 depicts the data for the g sensitivity, the electrostatic sensitivity and the normalized sensitivity when each plot has been normalized to 1.00 at 25° C. Improvement in temperature performance by a factor of ten has been achieved using the self-test design.

20 without compensation
;? j
... 10
. :;
'iii 0
en -50




o 25 50

Temperature (Oc)

Figure 8. Compensation data for an accelerometer chosen for

its non-linear temperature behavior.

An equally interesting case for the self-test is where the accelerometer's sensitivity over temperature is not linear and monotonic. Using conventional compensation approaches.f the device can only be compensated to the first order using a linear, or piecewise linear, correction; dedicated microprocessor signal processors have been used for

Accelerometer Systems with Built-in Testing

approximating the temperature curves if higher order accuracy is needed. The self-test eliminates the need for both the linear compensation as well as the microprocessor dependent compensation. The self-test can theoretically even correct for a temperature dependent discontinuity in sensitivity. As is shown in Figure 8 for the uncompensated device, the residual error, with a simple, first order compensation would not compensate the accelerometer as well as the self test function does. In fact, from -40 to

+ IOncC, total error for the self-test calibration is less than 0.4%. This means that the part can be calibrated at room temperature and the sensitivity will be correct within 0.4% with no other temperature correction algorithms. The linearly temperature compensation approach as used with piezoresistivc pressure sensors has an error of + 7%.


Application of the Self-Testable Accelerometer

The self-test option on the accelerometer provides a normalized output for the accelerometer if one can divide the signal due to acceleration by the signal due to electrostatic force. Modern A-to-D conversion techniques provide such a tool. The A-to-D converter provides a digital word dependant on the ratio of the unknown signal and a reference voltage. By modulating the reference, one quadrant division can be implemented.f In the case of the self-test accelerometer, the problem is somewhat more complicated because the acceleration signal and the self test signal may occur simultaneously; under these conditions, a circuit must be implemented to demultiplex the signal plus self-test signal composite .

One approach to providing an output which is normalized over temperature is to use the A to D circuit shown in Figure 9. In this case, the output of the accelerometer is fed through a demultiplexer which is synchronized with the self test electrode control voltage. When the electrode voltage is off, the accelerometer output is passed through the first stage amplifier and through the multiplexer to the normal input to the A to D converter. When the device is in a self-test mode, the voltage is applied to the self-test electrode and the signal path is changed to allow acquisition of the self test signal. Because the self-test signal will be super-imposed on whatever signal the

7. "Temperature Compensation IC Pressure Sensors" TN-002, March, 1985 and "Temperature Compensation Techniques for Piczorcsisrivc Accelerometers" TN-O()9, Rev. 1, December 1988, IC Sensors, Milpitas, California.

8. "Orientation: Analog-to-Digital Conversion", Data Conversion Products l)_atabook, Analog Devices, April 1988, P 3- J O.

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Accelerometer Systems with Built-in Testing

accelerometer is currently sensing, it is necessary to take the difference between the output voltage immediately before self-testing and during self test. The difference is simply the force exerted on the accelerometer due to the self-test. This is done with the I X difference amplifier shown in the figure. This signal is in turn ted through a sample and hold circuit and then to the reference input of the A to D converter.

In practice, there are two modes in which the device may need to operate; the first is a very slow sampling. The ultimate example of this case being when the system is first turned on, a single correction sample is made to both verifv

+5 V

operation and to set gain. The second approach is a continuous, relatively high frequency sampling mode. In this case, the self-test would be sampled at over twice the highest frequency of interest to provide a "real-time" normalization. This circuit has been implemented for a self-testable accelerometer. The raw scnsitivitv of the device was measured by tying the A-to-D reference to a fixed voltage. In normal use, the gain of the I X differential amplifier shown in Figure 9 is adjusted once at room temperature to set the acceleration to LSI) conversion; thereafter, the self-test function takes over and automatically adjusts the sensitivity at other temperatures.

Digital Outputs Pi




Pi Pi II

Ratiometric AID Converter

hr. For most vehicular applications, a more normal acceleration would be in the 0.5 g range, with transients during impact possibly in the 10 grange.

To compensate for potential erroneous recalibration if the device is being checked during an acceleration sequence, simple logic can be added to the circuit of Figure 9 to inhibit the self-testing. This logic compares the accelerometer output without self-rest against the normal static level; if the output is greater than some chosen threshold, then the circuit would hold the last value of the self-test calibration signal and would not update the calibration until the acceleration signal had once again decreased below that threshold.


Figure 9. Signal Processor and Demultiplexer for self-testable accelerometer

Self-Testing Under Dynamic Acceleration

Self testable systems provide a number of unique advantages; one can verify operation and additional calibration data can be derived. Self-resting by itself does not correct zero errors nor does it work without some basic understanding of the acceleration environment in which the device is used. If, for instance, the device is calibrated while the accelerometer is undergoing hili-scale acceleration, then the calibration factor will be altered because the separation between the electrode and mass has been changed. Under these conditions, the self test gauge factor could vary from 25 to 400<)1), although more typical errors might be in the 50 to 200% range. Some knowledge of the acceleration then is needed before calibration is initiated. 'Typically, the accelerometer is not under continuous acceleration but experiences transient increases or decreases. As an example, a continuous 50 g acceleration for I minute would result in a speed of 1700 km/


This approach thus solves the problem of changes in gauge factor due to dynamic acceleration causing changes in the electrostatic gap.

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An alternative method to reduce errors due to mass displacement is to add a bottom electrode to the structure and to deflect the mass upward with a voltage applied to the top and then downward with a voltage applied to the bottom electrode. Using the geometric mean of the two calibration

Accelerometer Systems with Built-in Testing

readings reduces the error associated with displacement from upwards of 60<){) down to 4(3,6 for a 20% displacement. Equation 4 is modified as shown in Equation 6, thus producing the improvement.


" 2))

19.6111X;0 - (6x

It should be noted that additional computational power would be needed to perform the mathematics in this case and thus the approach is not as an attractive a method as is the single-sided approach. Instead of just division which can be achieved with the ratiornetric A/D converter of Figure 9, two divisions need to be performed and both a multiplication and a square-root function need to be implemented. A structure with both top and bottom electrodes has been built and requires relatively little in additional processing over the basic accelerometer structure, with or without the top electrode.


Self-testable structures provide a technique to increase the reliability of sensors. Because of the controlled environment associated with the accelerometer and the minute forces needed to deflect the seismic mass, electrostatic deflection provides a unique solution to verification and calibration of an accelerometer. The ability to provide self-testing can significantly reduce the complexity of the support circuitry associated with the sensor. Minimally, it is possible to

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eliminate classical passive or active sensitivity compensation approaches; it is also feasible to allow pre-processing of the sensor data prior to digitizatiol1 and to eliminate stored, digital look-up tables for recalibration of the sensor over temperature.

In so eliminating the need for look-ups and additional circuitry to handle temperature and aging changes, the self: testable structure represents a new type of Smart Sensor. The intelligence is realized by eliminating the normal signal processing required for smart sensors by developing a method of simulating the ideal force that the sensor is intended to transduce. For the self-testable accelerometer, this approach allows the accelerometer to operate with a high level of confidence in critical, high-reliability safety applications.


The authors would like to thank IC Sensors' Advanced Product group and particularly It. Jerman, A. Crabill, and J. Crawford for design assistance and processing of these and other accelerometer structures.



Accelerometer Systems with Built-in Testing


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