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Motion Everywhere: New Roles and Functions for CE Devices

Wed, 10/12/2011 - 11:25am
Dave Rothenberg, Movea, Inc., www.movea.com
Dave RothenbergConsumer electronic (CE) devices are based on technologies that have an accelerating growth curve. As such, the capabilities these CE devices bring to market evolve at a very fast pace. It is this rapid growth and availability of high-end features in CE devices that has fed consumers’ expectations and demands for more ever-advanced products that are simple to use, and easy integrate into their current lifestyles.

Through the years, device manufacturers have learned that large populations of savvy consumers are willing to pay for a continuous stream of new features and innovations.

Moreover, CE manufacturers have realized that the secret to maximizing the revenue potential of new product innovations lies in mimicking how people work and live versus expecting people to change their behaviors to use the devices.

Motion is the latest trump card available to CE manufacturers, enabling the ability to create a new generation of products to operate how people naturally interact. Enabling this trend is a unique class of motion-sensing chips, referred to as MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems).

What are MEMS?

MEMS-based motion sensors can help define the position, acceleration, and orientation of some object or person to an extremely high level of accuracy in a real world frame of reference. Putting these motion sensing capabilities into CE devices enables a wide range of interesting applications in sports, gaming, health and other areas.

Determining position and orientation of an object requires accurate measurement and tracking of motion in 6 Degrees of Freedom (DOF) relative to some frame of reference. Those 6 DOF include three translations (up/down, forward/backward, left/right) and three rotations (roll, pitch and yaw), based on three MEMS inertial sensors:

* Gyroscopes measure rotations around 1-3 axes: forward or backward (pitch), turns from vertical to horizontal (yaw) and twists from side-to-side (roll). However, gyroscopes by themselves have no absolute frame of reference and can drift over time.
* Accelerometers measure the sum of true acceleration (i.e. object motion) and the Earth’s gravitational field. It can be very tricky to separate these two types of acceleration.
* Magnetometers measure the Earth’s magnetic field and an object’s absolute orientation relative to that field. However, the magnetic vector field can vary in space over large areas.
* Pressure sensors measure atmospheric or applied pressure and can be useful for determining force of motion or altitude changes. However, they can be very sensitive to temperature fluctuations and weather conditions.

A World of Motion

So, what value does motion bring to consumer electronics? The increasing availability of MEMS, along with their steadily decreasing costs, makes them suitable for a wide range of markets and CE applications today. Fabrication processes are evolving; production volumes are quickly growing; performance is improving, and cost, as well as power consumption, is all coming down. A recent report from ABI Research (http://bit.ly/r8GqkO) notes that the MEMS market is set to grow tremendously over the next five years; with an estimated five billion MEMS devices being shipped in 2016.

MEMS motion everywhereThese MEMS trends, combined with the growing market awareness and appetite, are driving greater numbers of companies to bring motion-enabled products to market. Yet, in order to be successful, manufacturers and OEM’s considering to develop a motion-aware product must understand how these motion technologies can be used together and how to effectively integrate them into CE devices.

Building Products with Motion-Intelligence: Things to Consider

While MEMS sensors are a critical component in creating motion-based CE devices, it’s actually software that takes the data from the sensors and converts it into high-level features with intelligent knowledge and understanding of human motion. With specialized software, CE devices become motion-intelligent.

Motion-intelligence comes from a deep understanding of sensor systems, signal processing and biomechanics, as well as a situational understanding of different application domains. Fortunately for CE device manufacturers, solutions are available that enable motion functionality to be simply integrated into consumer devices. The following are topics every product manager should consider before implementing motion into products:

Determine the Feasibility of Incorporating Motion

Is motion appropriate for your new product? What type of motion features are required to meet the market’s needs? How do you design for Motion Intelligence to produce the desired User Experience? The path you choose from sensors to final product is critical.

As Van Baker, Research VP for Gartner stated, “new hardware features are not very compelling without the applications to make them appealing to consumers.”

A key question to address is defining what kinds of features are required for the application. In the science of motion, there are three types of high-level motion features: detection, classification, and estimation:

* Detection is defined as determining whether or not an event has occurred. Another way to say this is that detection is identifying the start and the end of a motion; such as a hand wave in the air or a backswing with your tennis racquet
.
* Classification is defined as determining what an event was; whether or not a detected motion falls into a group, or set, of similar motions. Gesture recognition is a good example of classification. Is the recognized motion the number “5”, a square, or your login signature?

* Estimation is defined as measuring the motion properties of the event. A good example of estimation is determining the 3D trajectory of a runner’s foot during a stride.

Once high level motion features have been identified, product managers need to define precisely the movement they are willing to analyze. This will help product engineers build a solution that is adapted to the user and the application.

Critical items that need to be considered include:

* Understanding the level of complexity of the motion feature desired – from simple portrait/landscape detection, to full 3D motion capture. Each motion feature will require particular specifications.

* Evaluating the amount of processing power required to meet the level of movement complexity and accomplish the motion features. This will allow for optimized tradeoffs between features, performance, and cost of the final solution. Depending on the desired requirements, processing may be embedded or can be external.
* Determining the number of sensors needed and if you can use less sensors without degrading the performance
* Identifying where the sensors should be located in the device and on the body.
* Estimating power consumption needs and optimize for the application.

Select the Optimal Motion Technology Partner

Motion technology solutions providers exist to help you be successful in your new product development effort. Understanding what capabilities and features a technology provider can bring to a project is crucial. MEMS and silicon manufacturers play a significant role by providing integrated, multiple-axis sensors, and powerful microcontrollers that offer the possibility of creating systems of unprecedented complexity and power. But these technologies introduce new challenges in sensor selection, management, signal processing, and software.

The right motion technology provider will help you select the proper hardware, optimized for your needs. Additionally, they will provide you with the embedded and applications software technologies that accelerate your time-to-market, and reduce your IP risk and development cost.

In addition to evaluating technical capabilities, you should consider the following when deciding on a Motion technology solutions provider:

- Experience: Select a partner experienced in data fusion and advanced feature development that integrates all the sensor types you might be interested in - gyroscopes, accelerometers, magnetometers and pressure sensors - because individual MEMS sensor types by themselves are often not sufficient when one’s goal is a more complex motion feature, like the computation of altitude or trajectory estimation.

- Success: A successful motion technology provider should be able to present a proven track-record; a company that has experience with moving products from development into high volume manufacturing. This experience will be critical in your technology provider’s ability to help you move rapidly from prototype to market.

- Roadmap: When planning for success, you’ll want to make sure your motion technology provider demonstrates a continuous investment in R&D that can provide you a strong roadmap of next generation motion capabilities to power your own product roadmap. 
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