Sensors Essential to Input

User Interface – Jay Esfandyari of STMicroelectronics (STM) presented the Sensor Tutorial at the event. Esfandyari began his tutorial by charting the evolution of human interface technology from the 1940’s through to the present and into the future. In his overview of sensors for human interaction he cited microphones, motion sensors, environmental sensors, touch sensors, biosensors as well as micro projectors for mobile device displays, as examples of sensors that are reaching consumer electronic devices today. Since STM is a manufacturer of integrated circuits (ICs) and microelectromechanical (MEMs) components the tutorial largely focused on sensors and sensor applications incorporating these technologies.

Esfandyari’s presentation was broad in scope addressing sensor technology and materials, motion sensors, environmental sensors, MEMs microphones, as well as applications of sensors in consumer products including printers, PCs, gaming consoles, smartphones and tablets. He reviewed trends and recent advances in sensors including reductions in size, noise and power consumption, and the availability of sensor modules combining accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers as well as microcontrollers. The illustration below from the presentation shows module-scale, as well as very compact system-in-package (SIP), sensor products that are available today.

The integration of sensors, microcontrollers and software to offer smart sensors for data fusion was singled out as enabling new applications for portable navigation devices, service robots, unmanned aerial vehicles, advanced video games and new automotive applications. Sensors combined with microcontrollers are making sensor hubs available that provide for embedded sensor data synchronization, embedded sensor fusion, low cost, and low power consumption that enables always on sensors for contextual awareness applications.

One of Esfandyari’s more interesting points was the very large set of sensor applications in today’s products. These applications ranged from smartwatches, activity monitors, heart monitors, sports equipment, consumer electronics accessories, toys and games, weather stations, wellness products, utility metering and resource saving products, and more. The speaker made clear that sensors are becoming ubiquitous in our environment.

The uptake of sensors is really growing in markets including the healthcare, smart home, automotive, and smart city segments. Looking to the future, the tutorial covered the role of sensors in the Internet of Things (IoT). Esfandyari went on to note, however, that there are challenges to overcome as the Internet of Things is deployed. While some of the challenges are technological, some of the challenges are in fact societal in nature. These societal challenges include security, privacy, safety, social responsibility and environmental impact. Ending his tutorial on this note, the speaker observed that sensors have already enabled some radical changes in the way humans and technology interact, and looking forward, the market opportunities for sensors is quickly growing larger still. – Phil Wright