CES never fails to satisfy the consumer’s appetite for new gadgets, which in many cases are fueled by advances in sensor technology. This year is no exception with products enabled for virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR), voice assistants (Will Alexa rule the world?), and artificial intelligence (AI). The result is TVs that act as a smart hub for your home and scale to 8K resolution, bathroom fixtures that understand your commands, supersized gaming displays, social robots, and all kinds of solutions that connect your homes and vehicles.
How about an AR-enabled toothbrush for the kids or a robot companion for your parents? I may even be in the market for a smart writing pad that combines pen to paper writing with digital capture. It could make my job a lot easier.
But what brings these products to life are what’s inside them - tiny electronics components that help deliver brighter pictures, lower power consumption, more secure access, and connectivity across products. One of the biggest areas of innovation on display at CES 2018 is new sensing technology from accelerometers to imagers that can be applied to applications ranging from vehicles and drones to wearables and AR/VR headsets. There is also some interesting work being done in 3D imaging.
We’ll look at a few sensors introduced at CES 2018, starting with a market leader Bosch Sensortec, which introduced several new sensing devices at the show. These include the BMI088 MEMS sensor, an inertial measurement unit (IMU) for drone and robotics applications. Bosch borrowed its automotive technology to deliver an extremely stable, low noise and low drift device that offers improved steering in high-vibration environments. This device combines its automotive-proven gyroscope technology (triaxial 16-bit gyro) with a new triaxial 16-bit acceleration sensor. It’s small (3.0 x 4.5 x 0.95 mm3 package) and is pin-to-pin compatible with the BMI055 to easily integrate into existing designs. The BMI088 will be available to OEMs and distributors starting in May 2018.
Bosch also launched the BMA400 ultra-low-power accelerometer for wearables and IoT. What’s significant about this device is it draws 10 times less current than existing accelerometers without losing performance. Intelligent power management makes it well suited for (battery-operated) fitness bands, smart watches and activity trackers. It’s also very small - 2.0 x 2.0 x 0.95 mm³ - and the plug-and-play step counter eases design. The BMA400 will be available to OEMs and distributors starting in June 2018. C-samples for OEMS are available on demand.
Innovation is also occurring in 3D imaging. For example, 3D imaging company Vayyar Imaging touts its technology can see through almost any object or material without sacrificing privacy. The company launched and demoed its newest sensors for the connected home at CES 2018. “This technology combines multiple capabilities into a single sensor that covers an entire apartment in all light conditions, while maintaining privacy,” said Vayyar. The sensors can track everything happening inside and around the home in real time. These include determining if a person has fallen, measuring activity levels, and detecting intruders. They work in environments where cameras can’t, such as where there is smoke, poor lighting, fire, and flooding, according to the company.
For automotive applications, Velodyne LiDAR, a provider of 3D vision systems for autonomous vehicles demoed its line-up of LiDAR sensors. These include the Velodyne VLS-128 with 128 laser channels, which features long-range, high-resolution, and the widest surround field-of-view; the Velodyne Velarray that offers a 3D field of view in a form factor that can be concealed behind windshields and in roof lines and bumpers, targeting ADAS and autonomous applications, and the widely adopted Velodyne VLP-16, now available at a 50 percent price reduction. The VLP-16 is suited for a range of applications including automotive, freight, industrial, and robotics.
pmdtechnologies ag, a fabless IC company, showcased its new 3D imager, the IRS238XC, for the first time, at CES 2018. The imager is jointly developed by pmd and Infineon Technologies AG and addresses the market for 3D depth sensing. Demand for depth sensing in smartphones has been growing since the launch of the iPhone X, which uses depth sensing technology for user-facing applications, said the company.
Pmd’s 3D depth technology has been integrated into a number of devices like smartphones, AR headsets, intelligent home devices and robots. The company leveraged lessons learned from previous design ins and applied them to the new IRS238XC for Time-of-Flight (ToF) 3D cameras. The new device, measuring 12 mm x 8 mm, includes the imager, lens, IR emitter and all related circuity, touting the smallest 3D camera modules available in the industry. The IRS238XC also targets other devices such as AR/VR headsets, robots, drones and intelligent home devices. Samples of the IRS238XC are available. Mass production is scheduled to start in the fourth quarter of 2018. More info is available at Infineon.com/real3.
Several image sensors, including those from OmniVision, ON Semiconductor, and TDK were also highlighted at the show.
OmniVision Technologies announced its new flagship automotive image sensor, the OX03A10, a 2.4-megapixel image sensor designed for high-performance applications such as rear-view, 360-degree surround-view automotive cameras, and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as blind-spot detection, e-mirrors and lane-departure warnings. The product leverages OmniVision's BSI-2 and Deep Well technologies, and features low-light sensitivity and 120 dB high dynamic range. OmniVision said the “OX03A10's HDR can deliver high quality images at up to 90 dB with single exposure and no motion artifacts, and up to 120 dB with double exposure.” Samples are available.
ON Semiconductor announced a new 1/3.2-inch Back Side Illuminated (BSI) 4 megapixel (MP) CMOS digital image sensor for a variety of applications including IoT such as wearables, AR/VR and security cameras. The AR0430 delivers 120 frames-per-second (fps) supporting slow-motion video in 4 MP mode. What’s particularly significant about this sensor is that it delivers color image capture and depth mapping from a single device. Typically a second sensor is required for independent depth mapping. The sensor is an Awards Honoree in the Embedded Technologies category of the CES 2018 Innovation Awards. Engineering samples are available in bare die format, and will be in full production later in the first quarter of 2018.
TDK is showcasing an extensive line-up of sensors including its EPCOS, InvenSense and Micronas branded sensors that target a wide range of applications from wearables and AR/VR headsets to automobiles and drones. One example is the InvenSense ICP-10100 ultra-low-noise and ultra-low-power barometric pressure sensor. The capacitive pressure sensor can measure extremely small pressure differences of ±1 Pa, and offers low power consumption of 1.3 µA. Measuring 2 mm x 2 mm x 0.72 mm, the pressure sensor can be used in smartphones, wearables, drones and IoT products. The ICP-10100 is available now.
In addition to the ICP-10100 in a 2 x 2 x 0.72 mm 1.5 m waterproof package, InvenSense is sampling to strategic customers the ICP-101xx pressure sensor family in a 2 x 2.5 x 0.92 mm industry-standard package footprint. The entire ICP-101xx pressure sensor family will be available in wide distribution in February 2018.
These are only a small selection of innovative sensors on display at CES 2018. Check out the CES website for additional product announcements.