Environmental sensors will thrive in consumer, wearable products

March 04, 2014 //By Steve Barraclough
Environmental sensors will thrive in consumer, wearable products
Steve Barraclough, senior director of product management at Bosch Sensortec, talks use cases for environmental sensors and how some day products will get a sensor network equivalent of human skin.

Having spent the better part of four days on my feet in the Bosch-Sensortec booth at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I can say that the subsequent press coverage is absolutely correct in declaring that wearable technology did indeed dominate the proceedings. Surprising? Not really.

Despite the hype, the wearables sector has been stagnant for some time now, and leaving out trailblazers such as Jawbone and Fitbit, it is fair to say that innovation in this space has suffered at the expense of smartphone development and mobile software applications.

But all that is about to change. The intense focus on improving the smartphone user experience has driven the development of low-cost, ultra small, sophisticated motion and environmental sensors, which are now powering the next generation of wearable technology. The new platforms have not just reinvented the concept of the watch, but turned wrists, arms, heads, and ankles into anchor points for new navigation, fitness, health, and gaming products.

As a leading supplier of 3/6/9 axis motion sensors to the consumer electronics sector, we see that orientation, motion tracking, and related data fusion software dominates smartphone applications, and not surprisingly, this functionality is now finding its way into the heart of the new wearable products.

Interestingly, judging by several discussions at CES with developers and recent customer inquiries, wearable technology and related applications are also likely to accelerate the uptake and adoption of environmental sensors into the next generation of wearable technology platforms.

The reasoning is not immediately obvious, and requires a different line of thinking. The classic view of the environmental sensor group, primarily pressure, humidity, and temperature, immediately points to the personal weather station application as an obvious candidate for wearable platforms, so nothing new here. But taking a closer look, environmental sensor and motion data can be, and is being, combined in ways that will significantly increase the sophistication of the data fusion algorithms embedded in wearable platforms, enhancing navigation, augmented reality, gesturing, and body function monitoring.

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