Please tell us a bit about TDK and why you are at Sensors Expo & Conference 2018.
TDK is a very old company. What a lot of people don't realize is that we started in core magnetic technology and used to make magnetic tape for cassettes and VHS, which was very successful. In the 90’s, TDK redirected all of their efforts into new technologies
TDK is a $11 billion company and it has a hundred thousand employees. Yet, nobody's heard of us! The reason why is because TDK began purchasing other companies - they had ideas that we needed and liked. These included companies like EPCOS, Micronas Electronics and InvenSense. We also recently announced the purchase of Chirp. All different companies, but all leading into this one realm of where we feel the technology is headed.
The technology ranges from very basic, such as temperature sensors used in washing machines or refrigerators, to more sophisticated equipment, like the ultrasonic Chirp technology. Creating this new technology, starting with ultrasound technology at the size of a quarter, down to ultrasonic on the now MEMS-size chip – it’s just cool!
We have a huge range here. We’ve got magnetic technologies and magnetic sensors. We have the InvenSense technology and pressure sensors. We have a stand over there showing interesting use-case scenarios, for medical health.
We have all these different things that we're trying to now showcase to the world. We’re starting to brand TDK a little stronger. That’s where we're at today.
What are the key technologies you are promoting here today?
The newest thing we have is our Chirp technology, using ultrasonic. We’re taking older technology, like the ultrasound technology, and we're miniaturizing it, to the size of a MEMS chip. Then we’re using it for a huge range of applications - AR/VR, automotive technologies, gaming technologies, etc.
I think that's the beauty of the sensor industry. We're not even scratching the surface, in some cases, of application areas that these products can serve. I think that's really the interesting point and what amazes me about this industry.
What we have here is an ultrasonic time of flight sensor. It’s a very small device – it’s size is around three-by-three millimeters, and it’s about 1.2 millimeters thick. Inside there is a MEMS chip, which we can apply a voltage to, which makes it vibrate. It then emits a burst of ultrasound, which you can't hear. It’s like a bat - it sends a chirp, hence the name of the company.
We measure the amount of time it takes for that sound to hit an object and then come back to the same device. We can then measure distance with this, up to about five meters, with seven millimeters accuracy on range. It’s also very low power, in the order of 20 microwatts.
Additionally, its small size makes it much easier to integrate into things. It is much smaller than the traditional ultrasonic sensors that you see for parking sensors on cars. There's lots of applications for them in things like watches, where you can project the sound over the back of your hand and use the back of your hand as a touchscreen. You can use them for range-finding for drones too.
It carries out object-detection so could also be used in equipment like robotic vacuum cleaners – things that need to know where to go and not bump into other objects.
Another big area is in virtual reality systems. With a VR system, there's usually an IMU sensor in the headset, which InvenSense made as part of TDK. That works out the orientation of your head. If you have a controller, the IMU can also tell you the orientation of that, but you don't necessarily know where it is. The Chirp sensors allow you to locate it, in three dimensions, like GPS. You are provided with accurate knowledge of the position and the orientation. So in the VR world, they can superimpose the object onto your hand and track where it's going.
This technology can also be used in things like security and home occupancy monitoring. One of the things about occupancy monitors is that although you can use cameras, people are very reluctant to introduce cameras into their home. This is a way of being able to detect where the people are there and what activities are going on, without having a vision system doing it.
Alternatively, we could integrate these sensors into laptops. As you walk away from your laptop, the sensor would recognise this and cause the laptop to go into power down mode. But more interestingly, as you walk up to it, it will wake it up. Bring everything up before you actually get there, so it's ready to use.
How do you let the market know about your new technologies?
This is one of the few MEMS sensor areas and it is really at the beginning. A lot of the sensors (the inertia sensors, the pressure sensors) are all very well-established technologies, and there's a lot of players out there doing it.
This is a very new area for people. It's right at the beginning of that growth curve. And it's getting people to understand what it's capable of. The people come up with crazy ideas that you would never think of. It’s the ideas that drive innovation. The best way to do that is to show people.