The Future of MEMS Sensors in Wearables

Figure 3. The core system of the SensorTile Development Kit. (Credit: STMicroelectronics)

Sensors under development, including gas sensors and biosensors, will make wearable products more useful and powerful than ever before. Major innovations and improvements will soon increase the capabilities of existing sensors and software integration for easier implementation and shortened application development time.

Embedded state machines, smart functions, programming capabilities, increased dynamic ranges, and improved performance are set to propel the wearable devices into new territories. Smart sensors are likely to include features such as auto-detection of walking, running, biking, driving, or stationary behavior. Without the need for an external microcontroller, the programmability feature embedded in the next generation of smart sensors will offer developers the ability to design applications by using the sensor’s embedded computing capabilities alone.

As more sensors are integrated into a wearable device, the amount of data collected from those sensors increases dramatically. Because of the power-budget limitation in wearable devices, the computation, processing, and analysis of the data will go beyond the systems’ capabilities. Much of the data computation, therefore, will be migrated to the cloud to provide the ability to process and store the data permanently and securely.

Challenges to Overcome

Figure 4. A diagram of the technological and consumer-specific challenges facing wearable technology. (Credit: STMicroelectronics)

To make wearable products more attractive to a wider range of users, significant challenges must be surmounted. Figure 4 illustrates the technological and consumer-related obstacles, including continuous availability, integrity, and reliability of data. Always-on sensors will have to capture data continuously and be able to communicate the data reliably to the gateway or the cloud for further processing. Wearable products will also need to provide developers with platforms for application development.

Major challenges for consumers include data security, privacy, and user engagement. Manufacturers of wearables must assure that personal data is transferred securely, and that only authorized parties have access to the data. In addition, the hands-free devices, specifically medical wearables, need to be safe and free of any health threat or hazardous materials.

To a great extent, the products have so far failed to demonstrate long-lasting user engagement. If the wearable market is to grow more vigorously, wearables designers must captivate users more actively with their products so that consumers will fully appreciate the benefits and available features.

Conclusion

MEMs-based devices will continue to play a crucial role in the direction and growth of the wearable market. Sensor integration, embedded functions, software components, and programmability will be the major drivers of wearable products. Although there are still technological and consumer-related challenges to be addressed and conquered, the future of wearable products looks very promising.

This article was written by Jay Esfandyari, Ph.D., marketing and applications manager in the Analog and MEMS group at STMicroelectronics (Geneva, Switzerland). For more information, Click Here.

References

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