(19)
(11)EP 3 654 027 A1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT APPLICATION

(43)Date of publication:
20.05.2020 Bulletin 2020/21

(21)Application number: 18306487.2

(22)Date of filing:  14.11.2018
(51)Int. Cl.: 
G01N 27/22  (2006.01)
G01N 25/66  (2006.01)
(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR
Designated Extension States:
BA ME
Designated Validation States:
KH MA MD TN

(71)Applicant: MEAS France
31027 Toulouse Cedex 3 (FR)

(72)Inventor:
  • Bez, Denis
    31470 Fonsorbes (FR)

(74)Representative: Grünecker Patent- und Rechtsanwälte PartG mbB 
Leopoldstraße 4
80802 München
80802 München (DE)

  


(54)CALIBRATION OF A HUMIDITY SENSOR DEVICE


(57) The present invention relates to a method of calibrating a humidity sensor device, comprising the steps determining a first dew point and a first relative humidity at a first temperature in an environment by the humidity sensor device using a first calibration offset; subsequently heating the humidity sensor device, in particular, by self-heating, thereby heating the environment to a second temperature higher than the first temperature; subsequently determining a second dew point at the second temperature by the humidity sensor device; subsequently determining whether the determined second dew point differs from the determined first dew point by more than a predetermined difference; and subsequently changing the first calibration offset of the humidity sensor device by a predetermined value to obtain a second calibration offset, if it is determined that the determined second dew point differs from the determined first dew point by more than the predetermined difference.




Description

Field of Invention



[0001] The present invention relates to a humidity sensor device and, in particular, to the calibration of a humidity sensor device configured for measuring a relative humidity and determining a dew point in an environment.

Background of the invention



[0002] Humidity can be measured by a number of techniques based on a resistance change and a capacitance change of a suitable material. In a semiconductor-based system for determining a relative humidity (ratio of the partial pressure of water vapor to the saturation vapor pressure of water at a given temperature) by means of measuring a capacitance, for example, humidity can be measured based on the reversible water absorption characteristics of polymeric materials serving as a capacitor dielectric.

[0003] A conventional capacitive relative humidity sensor device, in general, includes a semiconductor substrate, and a pair of electrodes, which are formed on a surface of the semiconductor substrate and face each other across a particular distance. A humidity-sensitive dielectric film is placed between the electrodes and formed on a surface of the semiconductor substrate. The capacitance of the film changes in response to humidity. The sensor detects humidity by detecting changes in capacitance between the pair of electrodes in response to variations in the surrounding humidity. Humidity sensing elements of the capacitance sensing type usually include a moisture-insensitive, non-conducting structure with appropriate electrode elements mounted or deposited on the structure, along with a layer or coating of a dielectric, highly moisture-sensitive material overlaying the electrodes and positioned so as to be capable of absorbing water from the surrounding atmosphere and attaining equilibrium in a short period of time.

[0004] The response offset and slope for the integrated relative humidity sensor device can be set to particular values in order to achieve a desired value of accuracy for the sensor. The accumulated charges of the capacitor element can be read out by means of an appropriate conditioning circuit that outputs a DC voltage or change is oscillation frequency of an oscillator that can be detected responsive to the accumulation of charges in the dielectric layer and represent measures of the capacitance and, thereby, a relative humidity. Based on the relative humidity and a detected temperature the absolute humidity and dew point can be determined. Thus, a dew point at a windscreen of a vehicle can be determined by means of a humidity sensor device, for example.

[0005] Measuring the relative humidity by a sensing capacitor demands for calibrating a measurement circuitry, in particular, adjusting the offset, in order to interpret the changing physical characteristics of the sensing capacitor in terms of the relative humidity. Climatic chambers for precise calibration are known that, for example, make use of saturated or non-saturated solutions of salts. However, long stabilization times and involved communication with test benches are needed. Time and, thus, money, spent for calibration is significant.

[0006] Moreover, a sensing capacitor and measurement circuitry may be realized on an integrated circuit chip, for example, in the context of CMOS technology, and calibrated at the time of manufacture. A wafer having many IC chips may be manufactured at one time while the actual electronic devices containing the manufactured IC chips are assembled and calibrated at a later time and often at a different facility. Thus, individually calibrating each electronic device at the time of assembly becomes time and labor consuming.

[0007] In view of the above, a problem underlying the present invention is to provide for an efficient and reliable procedure of calibrating a relative humidity sensor device means.

Description of the Invention



[0008] The present invention addresses the above-mentioned problems by providing a method of calibrating a (relative) humidity sensor device according to claim 1. The method comprises the subsequently (in the cited order) performed steps of:
  1. a) determining a first dew point and a first relative humidity at a first temperature in an environment by the humidity sensor device using a first calibration offset;
  2. b) heating the humidity sensor device, in particular, by self-heating, thereby heating the environment (locally) to a second temperature higher than the first temperature;
  3. c) determining a second dew point at the second temperature by the humidity sensor device;
  4. d) determining whether the determined second dew point differs from the determined first dew point by more than a predetermined difference (tolerance); and
  5. e) changing the first calibration offset of the humidity sensor device by a predetermined value (for example, by some predetermined fraction of the first calibration offset) to obtain a second calibration offset, if it is determined that the determined second dew point differs from the determined first dew point by more than the predetermined difference.


[0009] The method makes use of heating of the humidity sensor device, in particular, self-heating of the humidity sensor device. In the art, self-heating (heat caused by operation) is considered a severe problem that has to be overcome by appropriate calibration. Contrary, according to the present invention the phenomenon of self-heating can be used for the calibration process. The self-heating may be caused by a processing means, for example, a microcontroller, of the humidity sensor device. It is noted, however, that the disclosed procedure does also work (additionally or alternatively) with some external heating of the humidity sensor device.

[0010] The disclosed procedure makes use of the fact that in a stable environment / closed air volume an increase of the temperature results in a decrease of the relative humidity such that the dew point (temperature) maintains constant. Any deviation from the constant value of the dew point results from some de-calibration or calibration error. Thus, self-calibration (auto-calibration) can be achieved in a very reliable and cost and time saving manner by adjusting a calibration offset based on determined differences between a dew point determined after a controlled heating of the sensor and a dew point initially determined before that heating. The calibration offset is related a relative humidity that is detected by the humidity sensor device (see also detailed description below). The correct offset allows for correctly translating a measured voltage, for example, to a real relative humidity that is present in the environment.

[0011] In particular, according to an embodiment, the first calibration offset is increased by the predetermined value, if it is determined that the second dew point is lower than the determined first dew point and the first calibration offset is decreased by the predetermined value, if it is determined that the second dew point is higher than the determined first dew point.

[0012] The inventive method of calibrating a humidity sensor device may include the additional subsequently performed steps of

f) determining a new value of the first dew point based on the changed calibration offset;

g) subsequently determining a third dew point at a third temperature by the humidity sensor device;

h) subsequently determining whether the determined third dew point differs from the determined new value of the first dew point by more than a predetermined difference; and

i) subsequently changing the calibration offset of the humidity sensor device by the predetermined value, if it is determined that the determined third dew point differs from the determined new value of the first dew point by more than the predetermined difference.



[0013] The steps f) to i) may be repeatedly performed until the predetermined difference is no longer reached. Steps f) to i) may be repeated until the respectively determined new (third, fourth, fifth, etc.) dew point (determined at a respective third, fourth, fifth, etc. temperature) differs from the respectively determined new value of the first dew point by not more than the predetermined difference. Thus, accurate calibration can be achieved by an iteration procedure.

[0014] Steps a) to e) or steps a) to i) (including repetition until the predetermined difference is no longer reached) may be performed on a periodical basis, for example, with a time period of some hours or minutes, in order to achieve an auto-re-calibration of the humidity sensor device during service time.

[0015] According to particular embodiments the third temperature differs from the second temperature by less than 10 % of the second temperature and/or the predetermined difference between the determined second dew point and the determined first dew point as well as the determined third dew point and the determined new value of the first dew point is in the range of 0.05 °C to 0.5 °C. For example, a predetermined difference (tolerance) of 0.1 °C can be suitably chosen.

[0016] At least the steps a) to e) of the inventive method may be performed automatically at a predetermined time period, in particular, between 10 and 2 times an hour. Steps a) to i) may be performed automatically at a predetermined time period and may be repeated until the determined difference in dew point does no longer exceed or match the predetermined difference.

[0017] According to a further embodiment the first dew point, the determined first relative humidity and the first temperature may be stored, in particular, in a memory of the humidity sensor device in order to be used for the calibration procedure.

[0018] Furthermore, it is provided a computer program product comprising one or more computer readable media having computer-executable instructions for performing the steps of the method according to one of the above-described embodiments. Further, it is provided a (relative) humidity sensor device, comprising a memory for storing that computer program product and a processor means configured to run that computer program product. The humidity sensor device can be adapted to be used in automotive applications, for example, for detecting relative humidity and/or a dew point at a windscreen of an automobile.

[0019] Additional features and advantages of the present invention will be described with reference to the drawings. In the description, reference is made to the accompanying figures that are meant to illustrate preferred embodiments of the invention. It is understood that such embodiments do not represent the full scope of the invention.

Figure 1 illustrates the dependency of the dew point on the temperature in a closed environment.

Figure 2 represents a flow chart illustrating a calibration process according to an embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 3 represents another flow chart illustrating a calibration process according to a particular embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 4 represents another flow chart illustrating an auto-re-calibration process of an already initially calibrated and ageing relative humidity sensor device.

Figure 5 represents a schematic diagram showing basic components of a humidity sensor device according to an embodiment of the present invention.



[0020] The present invention provides a method of (self-)calibrating a (relative) humidity sensor device based on heating of the humidity sensor device. The heating may be a self-heating of the humidity sensor device that occurs during operation of the same, for example, due to a self-heating of at least one of circuitry, a processing means, microcontroller, etc. In a closed environment (for example, regarded as a canonical ensemble) the heating of the humidity sensor device results (at least locally at the location of the measurement) in an increase of the temperature of the environment. Data processing is performed by a processing means of the humidity sensor device.

[0021] Figure 1 illustrates the dependency of a dew point on the temperature and relative humidity in a closed environment. The straight lines (with constant slopes) are plotted for different relative humidity values. The dew point τ is given by

wherein
T and ϕ denote the temperature and relative humidity, i.e. the ratio of the partial pressure of vapor and the saturation vapor pressure, and K2 and K3 are constants of the Magnus formula, i.e., K3 = 243.12 °C and K2 = 17.62 °C for temperatures in the range of -45 °C and 60 °C.

[0022] In a closed environment an increase in temperature results in a decrease in relative humidity such that the dew point maintains (at least approximately) constant. Thus, if some heating of the humidity sensor device results in a variation of the dew point determined based on the measured relative humidity, the humidity sensor device is not accurately calibrated. In other words, if the relative humidity calibration offset (relating a value of a measured voltage, for example, to a relative humidity value) is wrongly adjusted, the determined dew point will not be constant at varying temperatures (that result in accordingly varying levels of the relative humidity).

[0023] After a humidity sensor device has been manufactured a conditioning circuit has to be calibrated. In the case of a resistive or capacitive humidity sensor device a resistivity or capacity changes with changing humidity in an environment wherein the humidity sensor device is to be operated. For example, in a capacitive humidity sensor device some voltage or charging time is output and has to be translated to the correct relative humidity by an appropriate offset. In the following a calibration procedure for determining the appropriate offset according to an embodiment of the present invention will be described with reference to Figure 2.

[0024] In a start-up phase a dew point τ1 and a relative humidity value ϕ1 are determined 10 by a humidity sensor device based on an initial calibration offset for the measured relative humidity. The humidity sensor device operates in a closed air volume at a given temperature T1 with some first calibration offset. All determined values (including the temperature T1 that might also be detected by the humidity sensor device) can be stored, for example, in a memory of the humidity sensor device.

[0025] Next, the humidity sensor device is heated 11 either by some external means, a heater provided in the humidity sensor device or by self-heating of the humidity sensor device caused by operation of the same. For example, operation of some circuitry, in particular, some data processing means, of the humidity sensor device may cause the self-heating.

[0026] After some time period of heating and/or after some particular temperature of the humidity sensor device and, thereby, the local environment of the same, has been reached the dew point τ2 is determined 12 by the humidity sensor device for a second time at a second temperature T2. The second dew point τ2 determined at the temperature T2 is compared 13 with the first dew point τ1 determined at the temperature T1 before.

[0027] If the comparison 13 shows that the determined second dew point τ2 exceeds the determined first dew point τ1 by more than a predetermined (tolerance) range Δτ, τ2 > τ1 + Δτ, it is determined that the offset value is too high, i.e., the relative humidity is overestimated, and, consequently, the first calibration offset for the measured relative humidity is reduced 14a by some predetermined value ΔO, for example, some percentage of the first calibration offset, for example, 0.05 to 0.2 % of the first calibration offset.

[0028] If, on the other hand, the comparison 13 shows that the determined second dew point τ2 falls below the determined first dew point τ1 by more than a predetermined range Δτ, τ2 < τ1 - Δτ, it is determined that the offset value is too low, i.e., the relative humidity is under-estimated, and, consequently, the first calibration offset is increased 14b by some predetermined value ΔO, for example, some percentage of the first calibration offset, for example, 0.05 to 0.2 % of the first calibration offset.

[0029] Subsequently, a new value of the first dew point is calculated using the new calibration offset for the measured relative humidity differing by ΔO from the previously used one. Subsequently, the procedure shown in Figure 2 can be iterated until a constant value of the dew point within the predetermined range Δτ is determined. After a constant value of the dew point within the predetermined range Δτ is determined, the humidity sensor is well calibrated.

[0030] Figure 3 illustrates another concrete example of the inventive calibration procedure. At a time t0 a dew point τ0 is determined 20 by the humidity sensor device that is to be calibrated in a closed environment at a temperature of T0. The determination of the dew point T0 is based on an initial calibration offset O0 for the measured relative humidity. The temperature T0 may be, for example, T0 = 24.7 °C. The dew point τ0 is determined from a measured relative humidity ϕ0. For example, τ0 = 11.9 °C and ϕ0 = 44.8 %.

[0031] After some time t1 the dew point τ1 is determined 21 from a measured relative humidity ϕ1. During the time period t1 - t0 self-heating of the humidity sensor device results in a temperature increase of the local environment to a temperature T1 > T0. For example, T1 = 27.7 °C, τ1 = 12.8 °C and ϕ1 = 39.6 %. In this example, the determined dew point τ1 has increased with respect to τ0 by more than some tolerance Δτ, for example, Δτ = 0.1 °C. Thus, the relative humidity is measured too high, i.e., the calibration offset O0 is too high. Consequently, the calibration offset is reduced by a predetermined amount ΔO to obtain a new calibration offset O1 for the measured relative humidity 22, for example, O1 = O0 - 0.1 %, if the predetermined amount ΔO is chosen to be 0.1 %.

[0032] Using the new calibration offset O1 the initially determined dew point is re-determined 23 to obtain a corrected value for the initial dew point: τ0c = f(O1). Subsequently, using the new calibration offset O1 a new value τ2 for the dew point is determined 24 at a time t2. During the time period t2 - t1 the self-heating of the humidity sensor device progressed such that the temperature of the local environment increased to T2 > T1 > To, for example, T2 = 28.1 °C.

[0033] The new value τ2 for the dew point is compared with the corrected value for the initial dew point τ0c and if the values are the same within the predetermined tolerance Δτ, it is determined that the new calibration offset O1 for the measured relative humidity is the desired correct one 26 and the calibration process is terminated 27. If, on the other hand, τ2 > τ0c + Δτ, the calibration offset is further corrected O2 = O1 - 0.1 %. The initially determined dew point is re-determined again to obtain a corrected value for the initial dew point using the corrected offset O2: τ0c = f(O2). Again, a new value of the dew point is determined after a time t3 > t2 and the above-described procedure is re-iterated until the determined respective new value for the dew point does not differ from the respective corrected new value for the initial dew point by more than the predetermined tolerance Δτ. At the end of the iteration process the humidity sensor is well calibrated.

[0034] The procedures described above with reference to Figures 2 and 3 can, in principle, be applied to the problem of an initial calibration of a manufactured humidity sensor device or the problem of ageing. During ageing of the humidity sensor device auto-re-calibration can, thus, be performed in order to maintain correct operation of the already initially calibrated humidity sensor device over service time. In-field calibration can be useful for fine tuning after a first calibration that was performed under laboratory conditions. For example, auto-re-calibration can be performed at any start-up operation of the humidity sensor device installed in the field, for example, installed in an automobile. Auto-re-calibration can also be initiated on a regular periodic basis. For example, in periods of ten minutes ten measurements can be performed within one second, respectively, using the self-heating while increasing the processor load.

[0035] Figure 4 illustrates an auto-re-calibration process according to an example of the present invention. Operation of the humidity sensor device is started at step 30. Operation can be periodically started, for example, in time periods of hours or some 10 minutes. Immediately after start of the operation a dew point τ0 is determined by the humidity sensor device with an initial calibration offset O0 of relative humidity based on measurement of a relative humidity ϕ0 and stored 31 in a memory of the humidity sensor device.

[0036] After a predetermined time period of self-heating of the humidity sensor device a new value τ1 of the dew point is determined 32 and the difference between the new value τ1 and the initial value τ0 is determined 33 by a processing means of the humidity sensor device. It is determined 34 whether or not the absolute value of the difference exceeds a predetermined tolerance Δτ of calibration error. If the predetermined tolerance Δτ is not exceeded, no adjustment of the calibration is needed and the procedure is terminated 35. If the predetermined tolerance Δτ is exceeded, the initial calibration offset O0 of relative humidity (set by an initial calibration process, for example, performed after manufacture of the humidity sensor device and before a first operation in the field) has to be adjusted 36. In this case, if τ1 > το, the initial offset O0 is reduced by a predetermined amount ΔO, and if τ1 < το, the initial offset O0 is increased by the predetermined amount ΔO, in order to obtain a corrected offset O1.

[0037] Next, the initial value of the dew point is re-determined 37 using the adjusted offset O1 in order to obtain a corrected initial dew point τ0c. In a further measurement/determination step 38 the dew point τ2 is determined after some predetermined time period and the difference between the newly determined dew point τ2 and the corrected initial dew point τ0c is determined. Again, if the absolute value of the difference exceeds the predetermined tolerance Δτ, the actual calibration offset O1 is adjusted (increased or decreased depending on the sign of the difference) by the predetermined amount ΔO and the corrected initial dew point τ0c is re-determined using the newly corrected offset O2. This procedure can be re-iterated (for example, with measurements every 100 ms) until the offset is adjusted such that a newly determined dew point does not differ from the actual corrected initial dew point by more than the predetermined tolerance. When the iteration process is completed the humidity sensor is well re-calibrated.

[0038] It is noted that in order to cope with the ageing problem it is also possible to adjust the calibration slope. For example, a relative humidity sensor may be well calibrated for a relative humidity of 50 % but erroneously calibrated at a relative humidity of 30 %. Instead of correcting the offset at a relative humidity of 30 % one may, alternatively, calculate the slope that leads to an accurate calibration at a relative humidity of 30 % as well as 50 %. The adjustment of the slope may be based on some linear or non-linear function. Adjusting the slope over the full range of 0% to 100% results in accurate re-calibration.

[0039] The procedures described above with reference to Figures 2 to 4 allow for a very efficient and reliable as well as time-saving manner of calibrating a humidity sensor device both at an initial state before the first operation of the sensor and during the service time. The block diagram of Figure 5 shows a configuration of a humidity sensor device 100 wherein the above-described procedures are implemented. The humidity sensor device 100 comprises a humidity sensing means 110 including a sensing capacitor 112 and configured for measuring a relative humidity.

[0040] The sensing capacitor 112 includes two parallel metal plates each having covering films with a polyimide dielectric layer serving as a capacitor dielectric. Absorption of moisture by the polyimide dielectric layer changes the dielectric constant of the capacitor. As such, by knowing a constant reference capacitance (established by a reference capacitor, for example), one may calculate a relative humidity by measuring the change in the capacitance of the sensing capacitor 112 because the capacitance changes with humidity of the ambient conditions.

[0041] The humidity sensing means 110 is connected to an analog-digital converter 120 for providing a control logic 130 with a digital data stream. The control logic 130 comprises a processing means 132, for example, a microcontroller, and a memory 134. Calibration data and data used for the calibration procedure can be stored in the memory 134. Moreover, the memory 134 stores a program product for carrying out the calibration procedure according to the above described embodiments.

[0042] The control logic 130 is connected to an interface 140 for data output via data lines 151 and 152. The interface 140 can, for example, be an I2C interface with signal lines SDA and SCL. At least some of the components shown in Figure 5 can be formed on a single microchip or printed circuit board.

[0043] All previously discussed embodiments are not intended as limitations but serve as examples illustrating features and advantages of the invention. It is to be understood that some or all of the above described features can also be combined in different ways.


Claims

1. A method of calibrating a humidity sensor device, comprising the steps

a) determining a first dew point and a first relative humidity at a first temperature in an environment by the humidity sensor device using a first calibration offset;

b) subsequently heating the humidity sensor device, in particular, by self-heating, thereby heating the environment to a second temperature higher than the first temperature;

c) subsequently determining a second dew point at the second temperature by the humidity sensor device;

d) subsequently determining whether the determined second dew point differs from the determined first dew point by more than a predetermined difference; and

e) subsequently changing the first calibration offset of the humidity sensor device by a predetermined value to obtain a second calibration offset, if it is determined that the determined second dew point differs from the determined first dew point by more than the predetermined difference.


 
2. Method according to claim 1, wherein the first and second calibration offsets are related to the relative humidity determined by the humidity sensor device; and

i) the first calibration offset is increased by the predetermined value, if it is determined that the second dew point is lower than the determined first dew point; and

ii) the first calibration offset is decreased by the predetermined value, if it is determined that the second dew point is higher than the determined first dew point.


 
3. Method according to claim 1 or 2, wherein the predetermined value is some predetermined fraction of the first calibration offset.
 
4. Method according to one of the preceding claims, further comprising the subsequently performed steps of

f) determining a new value of the first dew point based on the changed calibration offset;

g) subsequently determining a third dew point at a third temperature by the humidity sensor device;

h) subsequently determining whether the determined third dew point differs from the determined new value of the first dew point by more than a predetermined difference; and

i) subsequently changing the calibration offset of the humidity sensor device by the predetermined value, if it is determined that the determined third dew point differs from the determined new value of the first dew point by more than the predetermined difference.


 
5. Method according to claim 4, further comprising repeating the steps f) to i) until the determined respective dew point determined in step g) differs from the determined respective new value of the first dew point determined in step f) by not more than the predetermined difference.
 
6. Method according to one of the preceding claims, wherein the third temperature differs from the second temperature by less than 10 % of the second temperature.
 
7. Method according to one of the preceding claims, wherein the predetermined difference is in the range of 0.05 °C to 0.5 °C.
 
8. Method according to one of the preceding claims, wherein at least the steps a) to e) are performed automatically at a predetermined time period, in particular, between 10 and 2 times an hour.
 
9. Method according to one of the preceding claims, further comprising storing the first dew point, the determined first relative humidity and the first temperature, in particular, in a memory of the humidity sensor device.
 
10. Method according to one of the preceding claims, wherein the heating of the humidity sensor device is a self-heating by means of a processing means of the humidity sensor device.
 
11. Method according to one of the preceding claims, wherein step a) to e) or a) to i) are performed on a periodical basis, for example, with a time period of some hours or minutes.
 
12. Computer program product comprising one or more computer readable media having computer-executable instructions for performing the steps of the method according to one of the Claims 1 to 11.
 
13. Humidity sensor device, comprising a memory for storing the computer program product according to claim 12 and a processor means configured to run the computer program product according to claim 12.
 




Drawing