Insights from industry

Sensor Technology and Power Efficiency

Francois Guibert, Executive VP and President, Greater China & South Asia Region, STMicroelectronics talks to AZoSensors about Sensor Technology and Power Efficiency.

Advancements in sensor technologies continue to drive multiple industries across the globe.  Recently, it has been announced that advancements in silicon will be concentrated in two areas. Can you describe both areas?

STMicroelectronics believes that silicon-based advancements in power- technologies and sensor-related technologies will have significant impact on industries and consumers.

With the world’s ever increasing demand for energy, power-related technologies are the keys to improving energy efficiency and making our resources go further. We are putting our energies into products and technologies that directly control power, such as transistors, switches and more sophisticated power-management ICs as well as enhancing our portfolio of devices that operate from low power or indirectly deliver energy-efficiency technologies, such as ultra-low power microcontrollers, radio-wave powered transceivers and system-solutions that combine the best energy-efficiency features of complementary chips into one optimized solution.

Sensor technologies, for us, include all silicon-based sensor technologies such as Micro-ElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS)-based motion sensors like accelerometers, gyroscopes and compass. These sensors are found in many consumer devices such as phones, tablets and game controllers. We are also enhancing environment sensors such as pressure and chemical sensors. For healthcare, we have long experience with biosensors that can detect and map DNA.

How will both categories of silicon technology have a dramatic impact on the development and function of electronic components in 2013?

Power and Sensing technologies are enabling very significant lifestyle-enhancing changes to the products we use every day. While historically, improvements in semiconductor operating frequency were the major technology drivers, today speed improvements are almost imperceptible to the user. Improvements to power efficiency allow products to become greener, last longer on their batteries, and become smaller, thinner, more personal, unanchored and even more mobile.

And sensors play a pivotal role in enabling devices to be smart. A smart device needs to sense its environment and react to it. ST’s development and consumerization of sensor technologies has had a profound impact on user lifestyle and will continue to do that.

How do modern day power transistors and switches compare to older technologies and what does this difference predict about future goals for this industry?

The biggest difference between modern transistors and switches with older technologies is the dramatic improvements in their efficiency: they now deliver much more power with lower losses because of very much lower internal resistance. At the same time they are much smaller.

The electric or hybrid car is only possible because today’s power supplies and inverters can deliver higher output from smaller systems. And it is reasonable to expect the power-to-size ratio and energy efficiency will continue to improve.

What is the common objective for this technology across the electronics industry?

The common objective is higher efficiency; generate more power with lower losses from a smaller package.

How do all power-related elements work together to achieve advancements in power efficiency across electronic products and how has this challenge been faced by STMicroelectronics?

A range of components work together to achieve optimal power efficiency. Technological improvements in transistors and switches reduce resistance. Improvements in rectifiers improve AC/DC conversion. Microcontrollers and software, as the brains, make everything work smarter and more efficiently.

The challenge is to ensure that this power efficiency objective is designed into all products in the value chain. ST maintains this philosophy of energy efficiency in all its product creation efforts and, in fact, has committed to make all of its products eco-designed by 2015.

What has been STMicroelectronics’ biggest challenge when considering power and sensors as being the technology drivers for 2013?

Sensors are relatively new to the various industries. Though ST is the market leader for sensors in the consumer segment and the leading manufacturer for Micro-ElectroMechanical Systems globally– those achievements did not come easy. ST educated its customers on the potential applications for sensors.

Though it may be obvious today that sensors belong in smartphones, tablets and game controllers, it was not so 7 to 10 years ago. Today, ST is educating new markets on the potential applications of sensors in healthcare and industrial applications.

Unlike sensors, power efficiency is a collaborative effort. Where sensors generally interact only with the environment and the user, power efficiency depends on all components used in the device. That challenge, to have a total approach to energy efficiency in our product creation process, is what drove our commitment to Eco-design every product by 2015.

Are there any particular products designed and developed by STMicroelectronics that you think have had a big influence on pushing sensor technology as a major technology driver and why?

ST was instrumental in pushing the adoption of accelerometers and gyroscopes into hard-drives, game controllers and smartphones. Today ST is the market leader for accelerometers and gyroscopes in the consumer segment, where no one would consider buying a smartphone that does not have motion sensor functions. It is an expected feature today.

What are the main application areas for STMicroelectronics’ power-efficient system-solutions?

ST’s power-efficient system solutions are targeted to a broad range of markets in automotive, communication, peripherals, consumer, energy smart gird, motor control, LED lighting and others.

What features in your products help optimise power efficiency?

Power efficiency is all about taking in energy and sending it out, with minimal losses. Fewer losses leads to greater efficiency. Losses are primarily felt in heat, caused by resistance. ST constantly works to reduce electrical resistance in our products to reduce heat.

For example, ST’s smart analog controller makes power conversion smarter, achieving more than 90% conversion efficiency and hence optimises power efficiency.

How does STMicroelectronics face the challenge of making ‘smart’ technology more intuitive and how will this be affected by advancements in silicon?

The most intuitive and seamless smart technologies are those able to sense multiple conditions or stimuli simultaneously, process them in real time and respond quickly and accurately. This requires multiple sensors, for example, an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a compass coordinated by a microcontroller and one or more sophisticated algorithms.

ST’s sensor fusion modules (iNEMO), combine multiple sensors with a tunedSTM32 microcontroller, to allow device manufacturers to easily and seamlessly incorporate multiple sensor functions into their product designs.

How are environment sensors and chemical sensors developing within the electronics industry and is this development starting to change the way the target industry is performing?

Environment sensors and chemical sensors include pressure, humidity, temperature, gas and others. These sensors will somewhat “humanize” electronics because they will be able to “feel” the environment the way humans do and will be able to perform the “canary in the coal-mine” function without putting lives at risk.

The development of these sensors will very much expand the use of sensors in the healthcare and infrastructure industry.

What will be the technology drivers across the electronics industry over the next decade?

We believe that Power and Sensing technologies will be among the strong drivers across the electronics industry over the next decade.

The need for increased power efficiency is multi-faceted and society will always appreciate greater efficiency. Its benefits to the user are very real and very obvious: Devices become smaller, with batteries that last longer and cost less to operate, leading to more mobility, personalization and sustainability.

The performance ceiling for power technology—true high-power energy harvesting—is still very far away and there is much that we can achieve in power efficiency improvements. This will ensure that Power will be a technology driver for the next decade.

No device can be classified as “smart” if it cannot sense its environment and react accordingly. The development of “smart” technology is relatively recent and most consumers truly experienced a smart device only in the form of their smart phone. As the electronics industry moves closer to smart systems, sensors are one of the most important technology drivers.

“Smart” features are already expanding from consumer electronics into healthcare and lifestyle products, transportation and even infrastructure. The possibilities of designing smart features into just about anything are as endless as our imagination. Sensor technology will be the driving force to realize this creative possibility.

About François Guibert

François Guibert is Executive Vice President of STMicroelectronics and President of the Company’s Greater China and South Asia Regionƒx. Guibert has led ST’s operations in Asia Pacific since 2006 and his responsibilities were expanded to include Greater China in 2010.  

After three years at Texas Instruments, Guibert joined Thomson Semiconducteurs, a predecessor company to STMicroelectronics, in 1981. He was appointed Director of the Company’s Semicustom Business for Asia Pacific in 1987, and two years later became President of ST’s operations in Taiwan. Guibert also held senior positions in Corporate Business Development and Investor Relations. In 2005, he was promoted to Corporate Vice President, managing the Company’s sales and marketing in emerging markets around the world.

In May 2011, Guibert was elected Chairman of the Board at Veredus Laboratories, a Singapore-based life-sciences subsidiary of ST. He holds board memberships with the Singapore Economic Development Board, the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, and Alliance Francaise de Singapour. Guibert was bestowed Knight of the National Order of Merit by the French government in 2009.

François Guibert was born in Beziers, France, in 1953, and graduated with a degree in Electronic Engineering from Ecole Centrale Marseille, France.

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