Sensors Expo, the largest sensor-based conference and exhibition, was held in San Jose from June 26th to 28th, 2018. Sensors have been around for a long time, of course, but the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) has made sensor technology a major player in the market because IoT requires sensors to transmit data to the cloud or edge for processing. Sensor applications are very broad and include measurement and monitoring of the environment, movement, location, flow, position, human vital signs, pressure, electrical current, gesture, audio and many more.
What insights have we gained from the speakers? The first keynote speaker, Marc Pollefeys, director of science at Microsoft, emphasized that the future of human-machine interaction (HMI) relies on 3D motion and sensing. Hand gestures would be the main user interface to control devices, communicate and interact. Thus the future of HMI will drive the growth of sensors. Jason Shepherd, IoT CTO of Dell explained the principle of “cloud-native.” In short, it refers to many microservices working together in a fragmented market. Instead of one standard guiding the world, there will be many, and open-sourced solutions will likely prevail.
Other workshops covered the future of automotive and how LiDAR and Radar sensors are used, IoT, security, MEMS, and related technologies. Many leading silicon and building block suppliers participated at the event, and the following are a few exciting examples of what is to come.
While almost everyone else was showing sensors for temperature, humidity, position/altitude and acceleration, Maxim Integrated shared their concerns regarding the rising costs of healthcare, which is forecasted to be 10% of GDP or around $9 trillion on a global level. They showed a unique chipset solution to address preventative and chronic healthcare monitoring. They offer a wearable platform which includes the MAX86140 optical pulse-oximeter/heart-rate sensor, the MAX20303 wearable power-management solution, and motion-compensated algorithms for the development of wrist-worn devices to monitor heart-rate and activities. Additionally, the MAX30003 low-power, clinical-grade analog front end (AFE) will be able to monitor ECG and heart-rate signals (Figure 1). Together they can be used to monitor vital signs for exercise or remote patient monitoring. A kit was introduced to combine these chips.
Figure 1: The Maxim MAX30003 clinical-grade analog front end (AFE) can track ECG and heart rate to monitor clinical and fitness status. Shown here is the platform with the silicon embedded. (Source: Maxim Integrated)
Microchip is a major player in the microcontroller unit (MCU) market. To maintain leadership in this area, Microchip offered the SAML10/ L11 family, 32MHz ARM® Cortex® -M23 based MCUs that support 64KB embedded Flash and 16KB SRAM. With 4 channel parallel design, 100 touch buttons can run on one chip. This new version has reduced power consumption to the sub-milliamp level so, at 25MHz, it only consumes 600µA. To counter cyberattacks, the L11 version has incorporated the ARM® TrustZone® Technology. Memory can be partitioned so hackers can never reach the trusted zone. Furthermore, it provides secured public and private key management, enabling accessory authentication and IP protection. Thus IP cannot be stolen in cases where devices are built by contract manufacturers.
Whether it is doing proof-of-concept or accelerating development, helping developers to get products to market quickly is the key to success. STMicroelectronics understands this well. They offered the STMicroelectronics STEVAL-STLKT01V1 SensorTile Development Kit to shorten the development cycle (Figure 2). The kit includes an 80MHz STM32L476 low-power microcontroller with Bluetooth low energy (BLE) capability based on the BlueNRG network processor. It can measure motion, environmental and acoustical parameters with its built-in MEMS sensors and microphone.
Figure 2: The STMicroelectronics STEVAL-STLKT01V1 SensorTile Development Kit measures motion, environmental and acoustical parameters. A library of software and supporting Gerber file are available with the kit to reduce product development time. (Source: STMicroelectronics)
Accessories such as cradle boards which are compatible with other STMicroelectronics development modules enable hardware expansion. Most importantly, a library of software is part of the kit so developers can modify the source code to meet his/her applications. This will dramatically increase the efficiency of product development.
Bosch offers the BHI160 ultra-low power smart-hub which integrates a three-axis gyroscope, a three-axis accelerometer and programmable microcontroller unit (MCU) in a 3 x 3 x 0.95 mm LGA package. Its low-power always-on function detects real-time motion. It uses the Bosch Sensortec Fuser core which supports Android OS. It is capable of motion sensing and data processing, and its target applications include physical activities like running and biking, gesture detection, and augmented reality. Developers can use this for wearable devices, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) controllers. As suggested by the keynote speaker from Microsoft, AR/VR will be the next level human-machine interface (HMI). With data transfer rates up to 3.4Mbps, the chip supports sensor types including accelerometer, gravity, linear acceleration, game rotation vector, gyroscope, step counter and detector, significant motion, tilt, pickup gesture, wake up gesture, glance gesture, and activity recognition.
Attendees of the conference learned that digital transformation is taking place with digital data impacting every aspect of our lives, HMI will be touchless, and with the growth of the IoT, sensors are now under the spotlight. Sensors are becoming smart and can perform an increasingly broad set of functions including measuring temperature, humidity, motion, altitude, body vital signs and much more. More features will continue to be integrated into smaller packages. Maxim Integrated, Microchip, STMicroelectronics, and Bosch Sensortec have provided examples of some popular applications, all of which point towards the exciting future of sensors.
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