Future Electronics – Greater sensor integration offers new sources of value in end-product designs

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During the 1980s and 1990s, the semiconductor industry’s most exciting advances came in the digital domain, the progress of Moore’s Law helping to continually reduce the cost and increase the performance of computing devices.

Today, consumers are less driven than before by regular PC upgrade cycles, and the semiconductor industry’s attention is now as much on the analogue as on the digital domain. Interest in the Internet of Things (IoT) in particular is leading designers to look at ways to embed more sensor capability into low power- and processor-constrained devices.

Device manufacturers are facilitating this trend by offering greater integration, helping OEM designers achieve more with sensor ICs. This integration can be achieved by providing multiple sensor functions in a single device, or by adding intelligence to the analogue circuitry to create a sensor system-on-chip.

An example of the first kind of integration can be found on page 20, in the MS8607 from TE Connectivity. A combined pressure, temperature and humidity sensor, this device packs a large amount of sensor functionality into a small space. Using such an integrated sensor allows the designer to achieve greater feature density for a given budget, enabling performance optimisation and adding value to the end-product. The ENS210, a relative humidity and temperature sensor from ams featured on page 13, is an example of the same trend.

Components which integrate digital system functionality alongside analogue circuitry can also be found in this issue of FTM. The LIS2DW12 accelerometer from STMicroelectronics, on page18, implements various applications including free-fall detection, portrait/landscape detection, wake-up triggering and single-/double-tap recognition.

The digital engine integrated into this 2mm x 2mm device handles the processing of the raw analogue outputs, so the user does not have to implement these applications in a host microcontroller.

In fact, more and more sensors are being provided as simplified, fully programmable digital-output devices with embedded processing capability, backed by extensive online support and development tools. This new generation of devices, such as the AS726x series of multi-channel spectral sensors from ams, on page 16, is making it easier than ever to add new sensing capabilities to electronic products. For system designers, this provides an opportunity to create more valuable, feature-rich end-products without a substantial increase in development effort.

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