The ultra-wideband impedance sensor (UWBZ sensor, or Z-sensor) is implemented in differential and single-ended configurations. The differential UWBZ sensor employs a sub-nanosecond impulse to determine the balance of an impedance bridge. The bridge is configured as a differential sample-and-hold circuit that has a reference impedance side and an unknown impedance side. The unknown impedance side includes a short transmission line whose impedance is a function of the near proximity of objects. The single-ended UWBZ sensor eliminates the reference side of the bridge and is formed of a sample and hold circuit having a transmission line whose impedance is a function of the near proximity of objects. The sensing range of the transmission line is bounded by the two-way travel time of the impulse, thereby eliminating spurious Doppler modes from large distant objects that would occur in a microwave CW impedance bridge. Thus, the UWBZ sensor is a range-gated proximity sensor. The Z-sensor senses the near proximity of various materials such as metal, plastic, wood, petroleum products, and living tissue. It is much like a capacitance sensor, yet it is impervious to moisture. One broad application area is the general replacement of magnetic sensors, particularly where nonferrous materials need to be sensed. Another broad application area is sensing full/empty levels in tanks, vats and silos, e.g., a full/empty switch in water or petroleum tanks.
The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. W-7405-ENG-48 between the United States Department of Energy and the University of California for the operation of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.