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Hi all posted question on reddit but giving it a shot here too, I've been working on a board that requires a pressure sensor to detect when there is a differential air pressure or not. The board needs to be quite small, and more importantly very cheap.

Even some of the cheapest pressure sensors are $5-$10 which is simply too much for the application. They also provide analog output dependent on the value of the differential pressure, whereas I only need it to detect when pressure is above a threshold.

I have seen something similar in e-cigarette/vape pens. They use what looks like a unidirectional (vented) electret mic as a static differential pressure sensor to detect when you are pulling. I was wondering if any of you have a better idea of how this works. From what I know, electret mics can only be used to measure dynamic differential pressure (sound) and will not work for static pressure.

My assumption is that to use the unidirectional mic as a pressure sensor they might instead measure the capacitance of the electret. I'm not sure how well this works considering that the ones I have seen have an internal JFET that wont allow for this measurement

Hoping some of you have some better answers as to how the e-cig companies use them for pressure sensors.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What is the exact situation (or, if you must be circumspect then a situation that is in every important respect identical) for this sensor, what is the threshold, and what is the response time? I don't see how anyone can suggest a rational "very cheap" design working on nothing more than "differential air pressure." It might be used on Jupiter for all the information that's available. \$\endgroup\$
    – jonk
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 1:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just a suggestion, look at sensors used in home washing machines, they measure the level of water via pressure. I believe they are diaphragm based and cheep. NXP has a line of pressure sensors, I used the MXP series and they are great. Price is volume dependent. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gil
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 1:54

2 Answers 2

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Some of the e-cigs use the sound of the rush of turbulent air flowing past a conventional microphone to trigger the ASIC.

Some use a capacitive pressure sensor in the 10-20pF range that changes about 10%. There are ASICs to detect the capacitance change.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi thanks, I was aware of the ones that used sound. Most good ones I have seen use a "pressure sensor". This can be easily tested if the e-cig doesn't activate when you blow into it. If it used noise it would simply activate on push or pull. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2021 at 20:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ On the topic of the capacitive pressure sensors, I'm assuming it's just the electret without the JFET. The problem is I can't seem to find anything on digikey, mouser etc. selling them without the JFET integrated. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2021 at 20:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ They use a capacitive pressure sensor, not an electret. More like a condenser microphone if it was made very cheaply. Probably measured by applying an AC voltage across the sensor. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2021 at 20:27
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Smoking is dynamic, isn't it? For example if you detect an event and you do some action for a specified timeout, it can work. So for e-cig just a simple detector is needed (my presumption), not a true measuring device.

If your app. demands to detect a differential pressure over time, I think is not going to work, since the charge will be leaking, thus not suitable for static measurement. But if this is a device with fast changeovers, maybe it is usable.

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