The sensor market matures to deliver smaller footprints, lower power, and higher integration

By Hailey Lynne McKeefrey, editor-in-chief, EBN

OEMs are incorporating sensors into products at an astonishing
rate in everything from automobiles and industrial equipment to consumer
electronics and emerging technologies. Average selling prices are going down,
and feature-rich offerings are becoming the norm. Sensors Expo 2018, held earlier this summer in San Jose, California, provided a
microcosm of the biggest technology trends and new product offerings in the
market.

By the end of this year, the total number of sensors built and
installed will exceed 35 billion, according to a recent report from the Semico
Research & Consulting Group
. The global magnetic sensor market alone is expected to reach $3.2 billion in global revenues by 2025, progressing
at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.8%, according to a new report by Grand View Research. These sensors
are used in automotive, consumer, health, and industrial applications.

As technology evolves, engineers are looking to get more from the
sensors they use in their designs. As always, lower cost is a goal. Furthermore,
sensors are getting smaller, using less power, and integrating multiple
features into a single device. Many offer ruggedization to withstand harsh
environments.

In addition, sensors are becoming smarter by providing on-chip
analytics and self-calibration features. Murata introduced a carbon dioxide (CO2) sensor
aimed at smart building applications. The product, available in sample
quantities, calibrates itself without human intervention, which saves time
doing manual inspections, said Deryl Kimbro, general manager for business development
at Murata Americas.

“Customers want more features and want to pay less, and the only
way to do that is by integrating features into a single monolithic chip,”
explained Walter Garcia Brooks, optoelectronic product manager, sensor, and
specialist components for TT Electronics.

TT showcased its OPB9000 SMD reflective optical sensor for medical
applications at the sensors conference. “No matter how the environment changes
in temperature, contamination, ambient light, or noise, the sensor will maintain
a stable output,” said Brooks. Industrial-grade resin allows the sensor to
operate at a wide temperature range from –40°C to 85°C. The fully programmable
sensor features 25,000+ lux ambient light immunity.

In many ways, these various goals are complimentary. The newest
sensor offerings underline the use of sensor technology in a wide variety of
markets and applications. “The newest sensors monitor a multiplicity of things,
including temperature, pressure, sweat content, glucose, and concentrations,”
said Brian O’Loughlin, vice president of sales for Sensera, which makes medical
and commercial sensors. “We are trying to add analytics as well.
Miniaturization is the best way to get to that.”

Aceinna’s new MTLT305D dynamic tilt sensor module combines
accelerometers, gyroscopes, and a temperature sensor as well as advanced sensor
fusion and calibration algorithms to achieve 0.5° tilt and

Aceinna’s
new MTLT305D dynamic tilt sensor module.

Ams, which makes high-performance sensors, introduced a family of
ambient light sensors (TSL2540 and TSL2541) and a combined ambient light and proximity
sensor (TSL2740) that combine miniaturization and low power demands. “The home
assistant market is really growing fast, and a lot of new entrants are looking
to get a piece of it,” said David Moon, senior marketing manager, Advanced
Optical Solutions at ams. “Our new sensors are low-profile; have a small form factor;
and use .18-micron technology for lower power and higher sensitivity.”

The new ams product family, which is aimed at display/LED
brightness control in consumer electronic applications, offers high sensitivity
(when detecting ambient light at an intensity as low as a few millilux), low
power, and a small package size (2.0 x 2.0 x 0.5-mm low-profile QFN). Available
now, the TSL2540 and TSL2541 are priced at $0.44 and $0.46 in quantities of
5,000.

TDK-InvenSense’s ICM-20600, a six-axis MotionTracking device,
combines a three-axis gyroscope and three-axis accelerometer in a small 2.5 x 3
x 0.91-mm (14-pin LGA) package. “Customers are looking for precision to track,
monitor, and sense motion,” said David Almoslino, sensor director, corporate
marketing, MEMS Sensor Group, Sensor System Business Co., TDK-InvenSense. The
company also showed a seven-axis device.

0818_Roundup_TDK-Chip

TDK’s
six-axis MotionTracking device.

Meanwhile, Vesper was showing its VM1010 always-on piezoelectric
MEMS microphone, which is also water- and dust-proof. Aimed at consumer electronics
such as smart watches, the sensor powers down to sleep mode and uses almost no
power. “Sensors are becoming more cost-effective and use less power,” said Matt
Crowley, CEO, Vesper Technologies Inc. “Our customers want to know what’s going
on at the edge — and sensor data gives you a better look at the environment.”

TE Connectivity’s M5600,
an industrial pressure sensor, eliminates the need for hard-wiring and allows
for remote process control and monitoring through Bluetooth 4.0 technology. It
is weatherproof and powered by a battery, according to Pete Smith, senior
product manager at TE Connectivity. “We are pulling a sensor and radio into one
package, which gives a high level of integration,” he added.