Oct 07, 2014

QuickLogic’s Next Sensor Hub Rev

posted by Bryon Moyer

We’ve spent a bit of energy in the past looking at QuickLogic’s approach to a low-power sensor hub. Well, they’ve just introduced a second round, and the obvious question is… what’s changed?

They list some of the current capabilities, but the obvious questions are, how does this compare to the first one, and how did they make this happen?

Fundamentally, this hub has more horsepower than their first one. So they can do more work. They had a basic pedometer in their first hub; with this one, they have an “enhanced” pedometer that can now discriminate between walking, jogging, and running, while counting individual steps.

As it turns out, however, most of the capabilities on their second go-round weren’t possible on the first one. They noted features like IrDA remotes, barcode transmission, and pulse-width modulation (PWM) for dimming displays – none of these could be done by the first hub.

So how did they do this? Two things. First, they looked through some of the critical functions to see which things weren’t likely to change anytime soon (or ever); they hardened those into dedicated gates. That sped things up and lowered power.

But they also made some process changes. They didn’t go into the details of what changed, but the goal was yet lower power. After all, adding more capability usually has a power cost, which they have to fight since power is such an important part of their message. As it is, they’re claiming as low as 150 µW – even as they’ve added programmable logic and processor capacity, algorithm memory, and data buffer memory.

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Image courtesy QuickLogic

You can find out more in their announcement.

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Oct 02, 2014

Easier Zigbee Remote Controls

posted by Bryon Moyer

Zigbee recently announced the second version of their remote control standard, ZRC 2.0. The idea is that, in a Zigbee home, with consumer electronics and other devices that speak Zigbee, you can have a single remote to rule them all. It’s not line-of-site, in contrast to traditional infrared systems. And, while it may be paired with specific devices it controls, it can also talk to other devices on a Zigbee Home Automation (HA) network.

The main focus of this new revision appears to be ease of use – both for the manufacturer and end user. Binding can happen transparently, removing the consumer from the process. Likewise, manufacturers can use the out-of-band binding process to setup multiple devices that will work together prior to shipping. And the device codes from legacy devices can now be uploaded to a remote over-the-air (replacing what would have been a small code database in the remote).

They’ve also implemented a two-way polling mechanism for communicating with sleeping devices. One of the features this enables is “find my remote,” which lets you push a button on, say, your TV and something happens to show you where the remote is (beeping, vibrating, whatever the remote designer included as the response). It also supports the uploading of new firmware updates.

And they’ve beefed up security and improved the communication between Zigbee HA and ZRC.

Greenpeak has already announced a new radio chip, the GP565, supporting the updated standard. And Universal Electronics has announced an update to their QuickSet application, which can be embedded into audio/video equipment to provide an on-screen setup interface.

You can read more about the Zigbee update in their announcement.

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Sep 30, 2014

Collocated Location Technology

posted by Bryon Moyer

MWC_PR_IMG_Wearables-cr_200.jpg

Location services used to mean one thing: applications that leveraged GPS and other global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) to fix your location and then… do stuff with that information. Of course, GPS isn’t reliable indoors, so there were holes in the system, but, for its time, it was pretty spiffy.

Meanwhile, in a separate corner of the technology world, MEMS hit high gear, and inertial sensors allowed some indoor navigation (better with expensive chips; so-so with commercial grade; greatly enhanced by good sensor fusion). As we’ve seen, the two work together, each standing in where the other was weak, and bolstered by the use of indoor networks like WiFi and Bluetooth as further triangulation tools.

But, despite their mutual affinity, GNSS and inertial systems remained distinct. One talks to satellites; the other uses MEMS. It was up to systems integrators to bring them together.

Well, it looks like that’s changed. Broadcom has announced a combo GNSS/sensor hub chip. Yes, it’s not just an inertial system; it’s a more generic sensor hub. But the obvious application is to plug in some accelerometers and gyros, perhaps augmented by a magnetometer, and get them dancing with the GPS.

Of course, part of the story is power reduction, afforded by the microcontroller in the sensor hub as it offloads a phone application processor, but that’s the case for any hub. What’s different here is that GNSS becomes, in essence, just another sensor. Which is kind of what it is, right? A satellite sensor?

They can also do indoor network triangulation… Think of it as a WiFi (et al) sensor.

You can get more details in their announcement.

 

Image courtesy Broadcom

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