Tag Archives: IoT Sensors

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.


Report: Internet of Things semiconductor market set for rapid growth

The Internet of Things (IoT) processor, sensor and communications markets are set to grow by 36.2% next year, according to a new Gartner report.


The study reveals that processors will be the largest revenue contributor to the connected “things” semiconductor device forecast ($7.58 billion in 2015), while sensors will experience the greatest increase with 47.5 percent growth in 2015.

“The demand for billions of things will ripple throughout the entire value chain, from software and services to semiconductor devices,” explained Alfonso Velosa, Gartner Research Director. “These ‘things’ will drive huge demand for individual chips. IoT semiconductor maturation will come from industries spanning consumer, industrial, medical, automotive and others.”

As alluded to by Velosa, analysts predict that the automotive and household consumer markets will help spur this growth, as companies will seek to research and develop IoT-based devices, ranging from smart lighting to in-vehicle entertainment systems. In addition, Gartner emphasizes that both safety regulations and the convenience of autonomous vehicles will drive a “tremendous demand” for new semiconductor devices in the car.

One example of how the Internet of Things will transform the car of tomorrow is the use of so-called predictive maintenance. Car owners will be notified of any necessary maintenance via small sensors throughout the engine; as a result, predictive maintenance enables superior experience for the consumer while paving the way for cost savings for both the consumer and the auto dealer.

Furthermore, LED lighting will be a huge volume play, both in lowering costs and allowing for new services through its capability to connect, network and sense the environment. Consumers looking to enhance their daily lives through the use of connected devices will also add to the IoT demand through both wearable technology, like smart glasses, smartwatches and fitness bands, as well as televisions and set-top boxes.

“Gartner forecasts almost 30% growth through 2020 for IoT semiconductor revenue,” concluded Dean Freeman, Gartner Research Vice President. “This revenue spans every conceivable industry and is driven by the immense scale of low-cost devices. Some in the industry believe this growth will transform the semiconductor industry. However, further investigation shows that the majority of IoT devices are commodity offerings. The truth is that inexpensive devices are one of the biggest enablers of IoT.”

In order to make this more intelligent, more connected world a reality, these Internet and wireless-enabled devices will be embedded with Atmel microcontrollers to give once-ordinary “things” new powers.

Report: IoT to become multitrillion-dollar market by 2020

As previously reported in Bits & Pieces, the potential for the Internet of Things (IoT) is pretty clear. By 2020, Cisco forecasts that there will be approximately 50 billion devices connected to the Internet, while IDC analysts project the worldwide market for IoT solutions will rise from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to a staggering $7.1 trillion. According to a recent survey from PwC, enterprises are now turning to sensors for many of the same reasons that they would adopt most technologies, such as greater efficiency. As a result the study has found that more companies are embarking on the gradual but massive adoption of the IoT, particularly investing in sensors to collect data, which is then wirelessly sent for further analysis or alerts.


The survey entitled, “Sensing the future of the Internet of Things,” reveals the ways in which the ever-evolving IoT is transforming the everyday physical objects that surround us into an ecosystem of information that will enrich our lives. “From refrigerators to parking spaces to houses, the IoT is bringing more and more things into the digital fold every day, which will likely make the IoT a multi-trillion dollar industry in the near future.”

“While the IoT represents the convergence of advances in miniaturization, wireless connectivity, increased data storage capacity and batteries, the IoT wouldn’t be possible without sensors,” PwC reports. “Sensors detect and measure changes in position, temperature, light, etc. and they are necessary to turn billions of objects into data-generating ‘things’ that can report on their status, and in some cases, interact with their environment. Because sensor endpoints fundamentally enable the IoT, sensor investments are an early indicator of the IoT’s progress.” According to PwC’s 6th Annual Digital IQ survey of nearly 1,500 business and technology executives, the IoT movement appears to be well underway.

The study found that 20% of companies are investing in IoT sensors, up from 17% last year. In addition 54% of top performers (survey respondents whose companies are in the top quartile for revenue growth, profitability, and innovation) said that they will be investing more in sensors this year, while 14% of the respondents claim that sensors are top strategic importance to their companies in the next three to five years.


Writing for Wired Innovation Insights, PWC’s Chris Curran explains that in the coming years, “Businesses will augment their operations, adding connected sensors to people, places, processes and products to gather and analyze information to make better decisions. I call this phenomenon the Internet of Business Things (IoBT).”

The Internet of Things can help consumers achieve goals by greatly improving their decision-making capacity via the augmented intelligence of the IoT, PwC notes. “For businesses, the IoBT helps companies achieve enhanced process optimization and efficiencies by collecting and reporting on data collected from the business environment.”

“Already, we’re seeing companies use sensors to track the movement of customers and employees who serve them. Product and shelf sensors are feeding inventory algorithms so businesses can replenish supplies exactly when they need to. Machines are being developed to detect when an employee isn’t properly trained and will shut down in response to an inadequately trained operator. Robots are coming to market to not replace workers, but to augment their work by sensing and assisting. Companies are even putting sensors on employees and in conference rooms to learn how to build better teams and to more efficiently balance real estate use between individual and shared space,” Curran adds.


Sensors are important in providing this so-called business intelligence to customers, as the data gathered enables them make better, faster decisions, in areas like business processes, supply chain and customer experience. The survey also went on to highlight the top 10 industries currently investing in sensors. Among the most notable included energy and mining (33%), power and utilities (32%), automotive (31%), industrial (25%) and hospitality (22%).

For those interested in learning more, you can access the entire PwC report here.