The exhaust gas oxygen sensor (EGO or O2), or lambda sensor, is the key sensor in the engine fuel control feedback loop. The computer uses the O2 sensor's input to balance the fuel mixture, leaning the mixture when the sensor reads rich and richening the mixture when the sensor reads lean.
Lambda sensors produces a voltage signal that recognises the amount of unburned oxygen in the exhaust. An oxygen sensor is essentially a battery that generates its own voltage. When hot (at least 250 degrees c.), the zirconium dioxide element in the sensor's tip produces a voltage that varies according to the amount of oxygen in the exhaust compared to the ambient oxygen level in the outside air. The greater the difference, the higher the sensor's output voltage.
Sensor output ranges from 0.2 Volts (lean) to 0.8 Volts (rich). A perfectly balanced or "stoichiometric" fuel mixture of 14.7 parts of air to 1 part of fuel gives an average reading of around 0.45 Volts.
The lambda sensor's output voltage doesn't remain constant, however. It flip-flops back and forth from rich to lean. Every time the voltage reverses itself and goes from high to low or vice versa, it's called a "cross count." A good O2 sensor on a injection system should fluctuate from rich to lean about 1 per second. If the number of cross counts is lower than this, it tells you the O2 sensor is getting sluggish and needs to be replaced.
Most lambda sensors will cycle from rich to lean in about 50 to 100 milliseconds, and from lean to rich in 75 to 150 milliseconds. This is referred to as the "transition" time. If the O2 sensor is taking significantly longer to reverse readings, this too is an indication that it is getting sluggish and may need to be replaced.
Observing the sensor's waveform on a scope is a good way to see whether or not it is slowing down with age. If the sensor becomes sluggish, it can create hesitation problems during sudden acceleration.