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Sensor fusion paves way for next-gen apps

Posted: 18 Jun 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Sensors? sensor fusion algorithms? SoCs? smartphones? DesignWare Sensor IP Sub-system?

Only a few years ago, sensors were considered a novelty, but now they are almost ubiquitous due to the explosive growth of smart devices. The ability to read and interpret environmental conditions such as pressure, temperature, and proximity is featured in many applications. Sophisticated sensor applications combine sensor data from multiple sources to provide a higher order of functionality. This practice is called sensor fusion. Combining an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer (compass) to create an accurate motion sensor is a prime example of sensor fusion.

Increasing complexity of sensor fusion algorithms requires additional processing capability and software overhead. To reduce impact on the applications processor, sensor functions are being handled by off-chip co-processors as well as integrated, on-chip sub-systems. This article highlights some interesting sensor fusion applications, and the increasing need for IP solutions that support the necessary features for integration into a wide range of market applications where sensor fusion algorithms play an important role.

The growth of sensor fusion market
There has been significant growth in systems incorporating sensor fusion technology as more semiconductor suppliers integrate sensor interfaces into their system-on-chips (SoCs). Although motion sensing in smartphones is the most common example of sensor fusion implementation, these functions also are being incorporated into many different applications such as those found in the automotive, consumer electronics, and digital home markets. According to Semico research, the number of systems incorporating sensor fusion is predicted to grow from 400 million units in 2012 to over 2.5 billion units in 2016 C an annual growth rate of almost 60%.

Figure 1: Sensor fusion systems to grow to 2.5 billion units by 2016.

Everyday fusion
Wearable devices are becoming extremely popular as people become increasingly interested in tracking their personal health and/or fitness goals. From measuring heart rate and sleep patterns to tracking numbers of steps and more advanced work-out monitoring, the scope of personal activities people are logging using wearable devices is astronomical. Tens of millions of these products are sold annually. In fact, the number of these types of devices shipped is estimated to reach 300 million annually ("Global Wearable Device Unit Shipments" by BI Intelligence).

Today's wearable devices mostly calculate one dimensional measurements such as counting calories or miles run. By combining multiple sensors, a much more accurate picture of activity can be created and analysed. Sensor software companies are already demonstrating technology that can provide data on the angles, velocity, and positioning of various body parts, communicated in real time to mobile devices. This complex combination of sensor hardware and software algorithms will become a mainstream feature of next-generation wearable devices.

Another interesting advance in sensor fusion relates to location. The concept of creating a geo-fence, or a virtual perimeter, has existed since GPS became mainstream technology. For example, a geo-fence can be dynamically created around your home or business and combined with a location-based device like a smartphone to make it useful. When the mobile device enters or leaves the geo-fenced area, a notification may be sent to the device (or elsewhere) indicating the event has occurred.

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