Sensor fusion drives mobile electronics’ future apps

October 4, 2011 — Sensor fusion — where inputs from multiple micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS) are "fused" to increase response and accuracy — is the next step for tablet/smartphone designs, according to a new IHS iSuppli MEMS & Sensors Special Report.

Also read: Smartphone/tablet motion sensor MEMS: What’s next?

Gyroscopes, accelerometers, compasses and other MEMS are "becoming ubiquitous in smartphones and tablets," said Jérémie Bouchaud, director and principal analyst for MEMS and sensors at IHS, who adds that mobile electronics designers now need to improve device functionality and user interface by combining the outputs of various motion sensors seamlessly. This sensor fusion minimizes the individual limitations of each device, for example, strong drift over time in gyroscopes, or electromagnetic interference (EMI) sensitivity common to compasses.

The typical sensor fusion approach will combine a 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis compass and 3-axis gyroscope to provide 9-axis sensor fusion, IHS predicts. The total available market (TAM) for 9-axis motion sensor fusion could be as large as $850 million in 2012, rising to $1.3 billion in 2015 (see the figure). To acheive the maximum benefit of sensor fusion, device designers will need to include it in the applications programming interface (API) for apps developers.

This API integration will allow software to complement motion sensors and compensate for limitations, giving the device user "immersive games and very responsive and accurate augmented reality applications for outdoor use," among other options, Bouchaud said. IHS sees room for a "major improvement" via sensor fusion to the Apple iOS (which currently only has some 6-axis sensor fusion) and Android operating systems (currently no fusion).

The software algorithms will be embedded in the sensors or may run on the application processors of tablets and smartphones. New concepts also are emerging to support a more power-efficient implementation. Some handsets in 2012 will include a dedicated microcontroller to run the sensor fusion algorithms for simple processing tasks, while the application processor will be woken up only to conduct more complex applications such as indoor navigation. Eventually, sensor fusion also could run on a dedicated core in the application processor.

Figure. 9-axis sensor fusion total available market: Global revenues for motion sensor trios (gyro, accelerometer, compass) in mobile tablets and smartphones. SOURCE: IHS iSuppli September 2011.

The two leading gyroscopes suppliers for handsets and tablets — STMicroelectronics and InvenSense — have developed 9-axis sensor fusion engines for OEMs. STMicroelectronics calls it "iNEMO" and expects handsets using the 9-axis integration in 2011.  Microsoft Corp. uses STMicroelectronics’ sensor fusion solution in Windows 8. InvenSense announced its combo sensor with embedded 9-axis sensor fusion in September.

Also see the IHS iSuppli report: Motion Sensors in Handsets: It’s All About Fusion at http://www.isuppli.com/MEMS-and-Sensors/Pages/Motion-Sensors-in-Handsets-It-s-All-About-Fusion.aspx?PRX

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