Sensors Expo topics span MEMS to robots and drones

1608 Happen Sensors
1608 Happen Sensors
Sensors Expo 2016 exhibit floor
Courtesy of Rick Nelson

Sensors Expo & Conference held June 22-23 in San Jose provided a venue for experts to weigh in on topics from MEMS to robots while exhibitors highlighted an array of sensors and related products on the exhibit floor.

Opening keynote speaker Dr. Kaigham J. “Ken” Gabriel, president and CEO of The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, commented that sensor functionality should represent not just a feature but a discriminator. Otherwise, sensor makers must rely on customers who are closer to the end user. He advocated a modular hardware approach that would enable end users to buy sensor modules the way they buy apps now.

Francis Rabuck, a technology research analyst at RoboUniverse, discussed the future of robotics and the role of sensors. He addressed applications ranging from Empire Robotics’ Versaball Beer Pong Robot to the use of drone thermal imaging to help measure the crop water stress index. He said voice will become the ultimate interface for the IoT world, where devices will have no keyboards.

The future, he said, will be made possible in part by devices that are smaller, faster, and cheaper, but data science and analytics will play a key role as well.

Challenges, he concluded, also will relate to social policy. It’s well noted that robots can take jobs. And with voice becoming the dominant interface, Rabuck said, privacy becomes an issue—after all, a talking Barbie doll also is a listening Barbie doll.

“Get connected” was the message from Steve Whalley, chief strategy officer of the MEMS & Sensors Industry Group, which was established in 2001 and “… connects and champions the MEMS and sensors supply chain in established and emerging markets.” The group, he said, has nearly 200 members and partners.

Looking toward the future, Whalley emphasized the trillion sensor (TSensor) vision and said flexible/printed technologies are showing promise. He cited IDTechEx forecasts that the total market for printed, flexible, and organic electronics will grow from $26.54 billion in 2016 to $69.03 billion in 2026. In addition, he said, purely printed solutions are emerging, large-area electronics are coming, and big-sensor-array data fusion will rely on deep learning.

A panel on the future of engineering education commented on the role of universities in the furtherance of sensor technology. Panel organizer and industry consultant Roger Grace said, “If this industry is to continue in prominence and importance, we need to have well-educated people coming in to fuel the design engineer roles needed to create sensors and sensor-based systems.” Participants included Nadine Aubry, Dean, College of Engineering, Northeastern University, as well as panelists ranging from an undergraduate to a CEO.

In addition, Ken Foust, chair of the MIPI Alliance Sensor Working Group, was on hand to explain how chip developers across the sensor and mobile ecosystems will be able to take advantage of the emerging MIPI I3C standard, which is expected to be formally approved and announced by the MIPI Alliance board later this year.

The two-wire interface will improve upon interfaces like I2C, which the new standard will resemble in the idle state, Faust said, adding that MIPI I3C will achieve data rates of 30-Mb/s while maintaining a low gate count.

On the exhibit floor, Linear Technology highlighted practical ambient energy harvesting for wireless sensor networks. Cypress Semiconductor exhibited its PSoC family and its role in the design of sensor-based systems. Rohm and Mindteck teamed up to demonstrate a lighting control system based on Rohm’s ambient light and proximity sensors.

Lapis Semiconductor presented an ultra-low-power 16-bit MCU and development kit with applicability to IoT devices, smart-grid meters, home appliances, and industrial equipment. Microchip highlighted motion coprocessors and modules with applicability to consumer, industrial, wearable, IoT, and medical devices.

Analog Devices featured industrial wireless sensor networks, sensing control for building automation, ultra-low-power devices for smart infrastructure, Drone position and stabilization, anisotropic magneto-resistive angle sensing for automotive applications, and power harvesting for wireless sensor networks.

TE Connectivity demonstrated digital component and piezo-film sensors, wireless pressure sensors, pulse oximetry sensors, temperature sensors, and submersible accelerometers. MEMSIC introduced a family of four sensor components that provides tip-over and acceleration sensing in a range of automotive, industrial, and consumer applications, such as motorcycle and off-road vehicle tip-over detection, vehicle navigation, and digital SLR camera horizontal-position detection. NXP highlighted a variety of applications for its devices, ranging from a dog activity monitor to a microwave oven.

Distributors also were in attendance. Mouser Electronics showcased technologies from Amphenol, Analog Devices, Bosch, Broadcom, Fairchild, Intel, Microchip, Nordic, NXP, Rohm Semiconductor, Seeed, Sensirion, TE Connectivity, and Texas Instruments. Digi-Key highlighted its sensor selector, which helps customers choose inertial, motion, position, temperature, and pressure sensors and transducers as well as capacitive touch/proximity sensors.

Finally, Ray Zinn, the recently retired long-time CEO of Micrel who founded the company in 1978, delivered a keynote address on the last day of the sensors event. He attributed Micrel’s success (it was profitable every year except 2002, he said) to its focus on employees. At the conclusion of his address, he signed copies of his book Tough Things First.

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