Tag Archives: Hillcrest Labs

Ready to wear sensor hubs

Majeed Ahmad explores the latest sensor hub offerings for wearable devices.  

By Majeed Ahmad

Atmel has beefed up its sensor hub offerings for wearable devices with SAM D20 Cortex M0+ microcontroller core to add more functionality and further lower the power bar for battery-operated devices. The SAM D20 MCUs offer ultra-low power through a patented power-saving technique called “Event System” that allows peripherals to communicate directly with each other without involving the CPU.

Atmel is part of the group of chipmakers that use low-power MCUs for sensor management as opposed to incorporating low-power core within the application processor. According to market research firm IHS Technology, Atmel is the leading sensor hub device supplier with 32 percent market share.

Sensor hubs are semiconductor devices that carry out sensor processing tasks — like sensor fusion and sensor calibration — through an array of software algorithms and subsequently transform sensor data into app-ready information for smartphones, tablets and wearable devices. Sensor hubs combine inputs from multiple sensors and sensor types including motion sensors — such as accelerometers, magnetometers and gyroscopes — and environmental sensors that provide light level, color, temperature, pressure, humidity, and many other inputs.

Atmel has supplied MCU-centric sensor hub solutions for a number of smartphones. Take China’s fourth largest smartphone maker, Coolpad, which has been using Atmel’s low-power MCU to offload sensor management tasks from handset’s main processor. However, while still busy in supplying sensor hub chips for smartphones and tablets, Atmel is looking at the next sensor-laden frontier: wearable devices.

SAM D20 Evaluation Kit

SAM D20 Evaluation Kit

Wearable devices are becoming the epitome of always-on sensor systems as they mirror and enhance cool smartphone apps like location and transport, activity and gesture monitoring, and voice command operation in far more portable manner. At the same time, however, always-on sensor ecosystem within connected wearables requires sensor hubs to interpret and combine multiple types of sensing—motion, sound and face—to enable context, motion and gesture solutions for devices like smartwatch.

Sensor hubs within wearable environment should be able to manage robust context awareness, motion detection, and gesture recognition demands. Wearable application developers are going to write all kinds of apps such as tap-to-walk and optical gesture. And, for sensor hubs, that means a lot more processing work and a requirement for greater accuracy.

So, the low-power demand is crucial in wearable devices given that sensor hubs would have to process a lot more sensor data at a lot lower power budget compared to smartphones and tablets. That’s why Atmel is pushing the power envelope for connected wearables through SAM D20 Cortex M0+ cores that offload the application processor from sensor-related tasks.

LifeQ’s sensor module for connected wearables.

LifeQ’s sensor module for connected wearables

The SAM D20 devices have two software-selectable sleep modes: idle and standby. In idle mode, the CPU is stopped while all other functions can be kept running. In standby mode, all clocks and functions are stopped except those selected to continue running.

Moreover, SAM D20 microcontroller supports SleepWalking, a feature that allows the peripheral to wake up from sleep based on predefined conditions. It allows the CPU to wake up only when needed — for instance, when a threshold is crossed or a result is ready.

The SAM D20 Cortex M0+ core offers the peripheral flexibility through a serial communication module (SERCOM) that is fully software-configurable to handle I2C, USART/UART and SPI communications. Furthermore, it offers memory densities ranging from 16KB to 256KB to give designers the option to determine how much memory they will require in sleep mode to achieve better power efficiency.

Atmel’s sensor hub solutions support Android and Windows operating systems as well as real-time operating system (RTOS) software. The San Jose–based chipmaker has also partnered with sensor fusion software and application providers including Hillcrest Labs and Sensor Platforms. In fact, Hillcrest is providing sensor hub software for China’s Coolpad, which is using Atmel’s low-power MCU for sensor data management.

The company has also signed partnership deals with major sensor manufacturers — including Bosch, Intersil, Kionix, Memsic and Sensirion — to streamline and accelerate design process for OEMs and ensure quick and seamless product integration.


Atmel Sensor Hub Software from Hillcrest Labs


This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Majeed Ahmad is a featured blogger. It first appeared there on February 4, 2015.  Majeed Ahmad is author of books Smartphone: Mobile Revolution at the Crossroads of Communications, Computing and Consumer Electronics and The Next Web of 50 Billion Devices: Mobile Internet’s Past, Present and Future. Majeed has a background in Engineering MS, former EE Times Editor in Chief (Asia), Writer for EC Magazine, Author of SmartPhone, Nokia’s SMART Phone.


“Always on” with Hillcrest Freespace and Atmel MCUs

Hillcrest Labs has announced that Coolpad Group (previously China Wireless) is using the company’s sensor hub software to enable “always on” sensing for Coolpad smartphones.


More specifically, Hillcrest’s Freespace software will run on Atmel’s low-power microcontroller (MCU) solutions to provide high performance sensor fusion, gesture recognition and always on context awareness capabilities – with dramatically lower power consumption and extended battery life.

“Coolpad realizes that sensors are critical to differentiate its functionality and maintain its dramatic growth in the global smartphone market,” said Chad Lucien, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Hillcrest Labs. “We’re proud to have been selected by Coolpad to provide the sensor hub functionality that will define its new mobile experience and enable context awareness, augmented reality, improved navigation and better gaming.”

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, sensor hubs are a separate class of chips designed to offload sensor management from the main processor for mobile phones and other devices. Essentially, they reduce the power requirements to add always on sensing in smartphones, tablets and wearables devices such as activity monitors, smartwatches, as well as head mounted displays (HMDs).

This enables gesture control, context awareness, pedestrian navigation, augmented reality, health and fitness monitoring, along with immersive gaming. Hillcrest’s sensor hub software products combine an array of sophisticated algorithms to provide low power, high performance sensor fusion and transform sensor data into valuable application-ready information.

Interested in learning more? You can check out Hillcrest’s official site here and Atmel’s MCU product page here.

Atmel and Hillcrest Labs team up on sensor hubs

Atmel and Hillcrest Labs recently expanded their collaboration in the context of Atmel’s Partner Program to deliver turn-key sensor hub solutions. As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, sensor hubs are increasingly being used to offload sensor management from a main processor.


Essentially, the combination of Hillcrest’s SH-1 sensor hub software and Atmel’s ultra-low power microcontrollers provides ‘always on’ features such as context awareness and gesture recognition, all while minimizing system power consumption.

In related news, Hillcrest also debuted a SH-1 sensor hub product designed to efficiently manage inertial, magnetic and environmental sensors using Atmel’s versatile SAM D20 ARM-powered Cortex M0+ based microcontroller (MCU). According to Chad Lucien, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Hillcrest Labs, the SH-1 sensor hub is targeted at smartphones, tablets, wearable electronic devices and the Internet of Things (Iot).

“The SH-1 sensor hub is a complete software package that includes high performance, low power sensor fusion, context awareness and gesture recognition algorithms, optimized sensor drivers, and the hub/host interface which communicates with an application processor,” Lucien explained.

“The software transforms data from up to six different types of sensors—including inertial, magnetic and environmental sensors—into application-ready information and is designed to perform consistently regardless of the sensor supplier used. The combination of the low power sensor hub microcontroller and Hillcrest’s software is available for Android smartphones and tablets, wearable devices and a variety of other sensor-enabled devices.”

Meanwhile, Espen Krangnes, Senior Product Marketing Manager, MCU Product Marketing, Atmel Corporation, noted that the harmonization of software and hardware was critical to ensure advanced functionality and extended battery life for next-gen devices.

“Hillcrest’s heritage in developing cutting-edge motion processing software and our past experiences with the team made them an essential partner for our new program, and we look forward to working with them to develop products to address this rapidly growing market,” Krangnes added.

Atmel expands sensor hub partnerships

Atmel has teamed up with a number of leading sensor manufacturers to accelerate the development of devices targeted at the rapidly evolving Internet of Things (IoT), wearable tech market and consumer sensor hubs. New partners include Bosch, Hillcrest Labs, Intersil, Kionix, MEMS IC, Sensirion and Sensor Platforms.


“Collaboration with leading sensor manufacturers will enable Atmel to provide customers with the most appropriate sensor and firmware solutions, thereby reducing overall time-to-market,” Espen Krangnes, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Atmel Corporation, told Bits & Pieces. “Plus, the sensor manufacturers offer sensor extension boards (AKA wings) to connect with Atmel’s sensor hub platform. These are used to accelerate the prototyping process – along with software that is fully compatible with our development ecosystem.”

As Krangnes notes, the expansion of Atmel’s sensor hub platform partnerships will undoubtedly help customers leverage additional technologies such as QTouch, wireless, graphical user interface (GUI) and sensor connectivity for their designs.

“Our versatile sensor hub solutions combine inputs from different sensors and sensor types which range from motion sensors, such as accelerometers, magnetometers, gyroscopes and environmental sensors, offering light level, color, temperature, pressure and humidity, along with numerous other inputs,” he continued. “This provides real-time direction, orientation and inclination data – facilitating optimized performance for a wide range of applications such as gaming, navigation, augmented reality and contextual awareness.”

In addition to teaming up with leading sensor manufacturers, Atmel is also expanding its sensor hub solutions with the introduction of the SAM D20 Cortex M0+, an ultra-low power, high-performance flexible core equipped with a number of intelligent peripherals along with a variety of communication features.

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, Atmel’s SAM D20 Cortex M0+-based MCU builds on decades of innovation and experience in embedded Flash MCU. The device offers ultra-low power via a patented power-saving technique known as an “Event System,” which enables peripherals to communicate directly to each other without involving the CPU. In addition, the device facilitates peripheral flexibility via an innovative serial communication module (SERCOM) that is fully software-configurable, handling I2C, USART/UART and SPI communications. Finally, the devices boast various memory densities, ranging from 16KB to 256KB, with devices available in 32-, 48- and 64-pin QFP and QFN package options.

“With the increasing number of sensors in consumer devices today, low power is a key differentiator for battery-powered devices,” said Krangnes. “This is precisely why Atmel’s Cortex M0+ core offers consumer electronic designers the ability to design next-gen devices which fuse disparate data from various sensors without utilizing significant power.”

Krangnes also noted that Atmel’s SAM D20 is only the first of many devices in the series specifically tailored for sensor hubs, with the ultra-low power sipping lineup featuring an external flexible development ecosystem bundled with the top sensors and related software in the market.

“Simply put, we provide designers with flexible operating system (OS) capability, as Atmel’s sensor hub solutions support a wide range of operating systems, including Windows, Android, and, now, real-time operating systems (RTOS). Remember, the market for sensors is expected to increase to nearly $91.5 billion by 2016,” he added. “With more sensors being integrated into today’s devices, there is an increasing demand to offload the application processor with a standalone microcontroller that intelligently fuses sensor data.”

Interested in learning more about Atmel’s sensor hub platform solutions? You can check out our official product page here.