5 unique MEMS and sensor tech to watch

Article By : Patrick Mannion

A ToF range sensor for VRs, a phone case and a gas sensor are a few of the hot technologies up for review at the MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress.

For those interested in MEMS and sensor design and application, here's something right up your alley: five hot technologies are up for review at the upcoming MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress (November 9-11) in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Every year, the MEMS & Sensors Industry Group makes a shortlist of finalists to present their inventions or innovations to the 250+ senior-level executives attending the event. Plucked from start-ups, established companies, researchers and individuals, the selectees get five minutes to present their demo, which must clearly define which aspects of MEMS and/or sensors will be demonstrated, and how. This will be followed by five minutes of Q&A from the audience, which then picks the winner.

Regular EDN readers might already be familiar with some of the finalists. For example, Vesper Technologies’ VM101 piezoelectric MEMS sensor was covered in detail by our own Steve Taranovich, way back in 2015. (It seems like forever ago). That sensor featured a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 68dB (typical); the highest acoustic-performance benchmark of any commercially available MEMS microphone in the industry.

Vesper kept innovating and at the MEMS & Sensors Showcase event, it will detail its latest device, the VM1010, the first quiescent-sensing MEMS microphone, announced earlier this year. Its claim to fame is a current draw of 3µA in listening mode so it can run almost indefinitely on small batteries, enabling always-on acoustic sensing for applications such as smart speakers, intelligent sensor nodes, and augmenting human presence sensing devices. Steve gave it an in-depth review, discussing how it addressed the clear need for low power, ruggedness, small size and high SNR.

Ultrasonic ranging for VR and AR

Chirp Microsystems will take the opportunity to demo a new application for its ultrasonic time-of-flight (ToF) range sensing technology that it announced in 2013. While typical applications have centred on gesture control for laptops and watches, the team will show how it can be used for inside-out tracking for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and gaming systems.

[ToF range sensing 01]
__Figure 1:__ *Chirp Microsystems’ ultrasonic time-of-flight ranging technology gives millimetre accuracy for three-dimensional gesture tracking and will be demonstrated for VR, AR and gaming applications. (Source: Chirp Microsystems)*

Typically, VR and gaming systems rely on complex and power-hungry vision sensing and processing techniques, which is not congruent with the drive toward wire-free systems for mobility. Chirp’s ultrasonic technology enables three-dimensional tracking to millimetre accuracy with six degrees of freedom at low power consumption. More details and the latest performance specifics will likely emerge at the demonstration.

i-BLADES turns phone case into modular platform

When the iPhone first came out, it broke new territory by being a platform with multiple sensors and a standardised user and programming interface. What i-BLADES has done is something similar, except it has done it to the phone’s protective case. The Smartcase takes phone cases way beyond the realm of simply protecting a phone from the “drop test.” It connects directly to a phone’s port and uses an on-board MCU to detect which of the various Smartblades have been attached. The Smartblades can provide extra functionality or battery backup, or both.

That ability to stack comes about from one of the other interesting innovations: the Smartcase uses a magnetic automatic contact system (ACS) that has pass-through, stacking capability. It may make the phone thicker, but it’s a good option if you’re stuck.

Pollution and health monitoring

The other two finalists demoing at the event are Integrated Device Technology and Valencell. IDT will showcase with its ZMOD3250 gas sensor for air quality and breathing detection.

[IDT ZMOD3250]
__Figure 2:__ *IDT’s ZMOD3250 is a high-sensitivity gas sensor that detects total volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odours.*

The ZMOD3250 is the company’s flagship product and detects total volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odours. It can also be used to selectively identify specific VOCs such as formaldehyde, ethanol and toluene.

The sensor features a unique silicon microhotplate with nanostructured sensing material that gives the device its sensitivity. It comes with an accompanying ASIC for integration flexibility. IDT will be discussing several applications, including off-gassing detection of chemicals from home furniture and materials, as well as breath components.

For its part, Valencell will be showing how to apply its heart-rate monitoring technology to fitness games as a key control measure. Or, in action games, users can hold their breath while their characters are swimming. Valencell’s technological breakthrough revolves around being able to measure heart rate accurately, regardless of location, using audio earbuds, headsets, armbands and wrist devices.

Accurate heart-rate tracking is tricky, so it’ll be interesting to see how Valencell–and all the five candidates–fare in the demo and Q&A.

This article first appeared on EDN.com.

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