Synaptics looks to support IoT sensor fusion with FlexSense

Synaptics, which has been pushing on multiple fronts to enable sensor fusion in IoT networks, this week unveiled its FlexSense family of sensor processors, capable of handling input from up to four sensors in what the company described as a tiny, ultra-low-power form factor.

How tiny? FlexSense processors are up to 80% smaller than existing solutions, the company said. That is important for the end point devices it is intended to support, such as true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds, gaming controllers, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets, fitness bands, remote controls, and smart thermostats. 

To support these devices, Synaptics has integrated a mix of capacitive, inductive, Hall effect and ambient sensing into a single processor with proprietary algorithms, to support reliable, low-latency, and context-aware force, proximity, and touch sensing, the company said.

"Today's IoT devices are using multiple sensors to create richer interactions with users, but discrete implementations consume too much space and power, complicate system design and component supply chains, and don’t respond appropriately to false activations," said Mahesh Srinivasan, VP, Smart Sensing and Display at Synaptics, in a statement. "By intelligently fusing multiple sensors in a single processor with proprietary algorithms, we enable more robust and reliable solutions for IoT applications that allow more intuitive and responsive interactions—while reducing system design, cost, configuration, and supply chain complexity for our customers."

In a recent wide-ranging interview with Fierce Electronics, Synaptics CEO Michael Hurlston also talked about the company’s work in IoT and the supply chain challenges that many companies continue to face.

The integration of multiple sensors on a single chip achieves a number of critical goals, including:

  • Reduced power, size, weight, and cost

  • Easier sensor calibration and configuration

  • Lower latency (critical for gaming and touch error mitigation)

  • Greater ability to execute more tightly coupled and accurate compensation algorithms to ensure baseline stability and adjust for temperature drift to enhance overall reliability and performance

  • Lower assembly cost, higher yield, and a simplified supply chain due to the use of a single device instead of multiple discrete components

The multi-sensor FlexSense architecture also gives product developers some runway to combine multiple sensor inputs and use higher-order, sophisticated algorithms to detect and implement more complex interactions with an IoT device, according to Synaptics.

For example, capacitive and inductive sensors can be used to combine touch and force sensing to more reliably determine intent and reduce mis-touches. Also, temperature sensors could be added to that mix to improve accuracy in wet or high moisture environments. Or, to combine proximity and dock detect sensing, capacitive, inductive and hall sensors can be integrated to avoid false activations when a device is set down.

Synaptics' FlexSense annoucement continues to follow the thread of sensor fusion that the company has been looking to enable in other product unveilings, such as the March launch of the Katana AI Edge kit supporting AI vision and sensor fusion applications. This kind of integration and sensor fusion is going to be increasingly important as the IoT market evolves, and companies look to their devices and edge systems to capture and analyze more and different kinds of data.

"It's important to bridge the gaps between the requirements of increasingly high-functioning IoT devices, and the need to accelerate product development cycles, while also simplifying the supply chain," said Patrick Moorhead, CEO and Chief Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "Particularly with battery powered and small-form-factor applications, creative approaches like FlexSense have the potential to solve these issues while providing a richer, more intuitive experience for the end user."