David Horsley, CTO of Chirp Microsystems, spoke to AZoSensors about Chirp's expertise and their attendance at TDK's Developers Conference.
Please tell us a bit about Chirp.
Based in Berkeley, California, Chirp was founded in 2013 based on pioneering research and IP, developed at the University of California’s Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center (BSAC).
Chirp’s founding team developed the world’s first MEMS-based ultrasonic time-of-flight (ToF) sensor, the CH-101, which we unveiled at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). We later developed a second ToF sensor, CH-201, that provides longer (5m) range sensing to meet customer requirements for robotics, drones, and IoT products.
In parallel, we developed a complete solution combining software and hardware to enable high-accuracy, low-latency, 6-DOF controller tracking for VR/AR/MR systems, which we demonstrated at CES 2017.
In early 2018, the company was acquired by TDK and is now part of TDK’s Sensor System Business Company.
What is ultrasonic sensing and piezoelectric MUTs?
Ultrasonic sensors are widely used in industrial and automotive applications because they are robust, accurate and reliable. Until today, ultrasonic sensors were too big and ugly to fit into consumer electronics.
At Chirp, we invented a tiny, millimeter-sized ultrasound chip based on a piezoelectric micromachined ultrasonic transducer (PMUT). Through our PMUT technology, Chirp’s ultrasonic sensors can deliver the same performance as conventional sensors that are one thousand times bigger. As we reduced the size, we were also able to dramatically reduce the power consumption – to the point where you can run the sensor at a few micro-amps of current.
This combination of small size, ultra-low power and ease-of-use opens ultrasonic sensing to a wide variety of products for the first time.
Raimundas / Shutterstock
What are the applications of your sensing technology?
Product designers are adopting Chirp’s sensors in products such as drones and robots where other range sensors cannot produce the required performance. Chirp’s sensors are also ideal for smart home products such as smart speakers, where alternative sensing technologies, such as passive infrared (PIR) and optical proximity sensors, are not as effective.
In virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) systems, Chirp’s ultrasonic sensors provide accurate tracking of objects such as hand-held gaming controllers.
How are Chirp’s sensors unique in the marketplace?
Chirp’s CH-101 and CH-201 are the first commercially available microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)-based ultrasonic ToF sensors. At 3.5 mm x 3.5 mm, these miniature devices combine a MEMS ultrasonic transducer with a custom low-power CMOS system on a chip (SoC) that handles all ultrasonic signal-processing functions.
Similar to a MEMS microphone, the CH-101 and CH-201 are offered in a 3.5mm LGA package, operate on a single 1.8V supply, and have a convenient I2C interface, making them easy to integrate into consumer-electronics products. The sensor’s on-board microprocessor enables always-on operation for wake-up sensing applications; the total current consumption is just 8 µA when measuring 1 sample per second.
The CH-101 has a maximum sensing range of 1 m, and the long-range CH-201 has a maximum range of 5 m. The CH-101 and CH-201 are currently sampling to qualified customers.
What can attendees at TDK’s Developer Conference expect from your speaker session?
I will explain how ultrasonic time-of-flight (ToF) sensors work and discuss the operation and features of our two ToF sensor products (CH-101 and CH-201). Many developers are familiar with the limitations of optical proximity and IR ToF sensors such as poor operation in outdoor lighting and narrow field-of-view, so I will explain how designers can use our ultrasonic ToF sensors to overcome these limitations.
About TDK Corporation
TDK Corporation is a leading electronics company based in Tokyo, Japan. It was established in 1935 to commercialize ferrite, a key material in electronic and magnetic products. TDK’s comprehensive portfolio features passive components such as ceramic, aluminum electrolytic and film capacitors, as well as magnetics, high-frequency, and piezo and protection devices. The product spectrum also includes sensors and sensor systems such as temperature and pressure, magnetic, and MEMS sensors. In addition, TDK provides power supplies and energy devices, magnetic heads and more. These products are marketed under the product brands TDK, EPCOS, InvenSense, Micronas, Tronics and TDK-Lambda. TDK focuses on demanding markets in the areas of information and communication technology and automotive, industrial and consumer electronics. The company has a network of design and manufacturing locations and sales offices in Asia, Europe, and in North and South America. In fiscal 2018, TDK posted total sales of USD 12 billion and employed about 103,000 people worldwide.
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