NimbleSense™ Architecture: The Industry’s First System-in-a-Sensor

The consumer electronics industry was revolutionized by the integration of many components onto a single die. Rather than each feature having its own integrated circuit (IC), a system-on-a-chip IC incorporates these unique functions on a single die or substrate to reduce the size, lower power and make the product cost-effective.

Sensors have not been integrated into ICs because they detect or measure physical properties. They serve as a link between the analog and digital worlds and are frequently location-dependent. It has been difficult to incorporate their full functionality into an integrated circuit that sits on a centralized PCB.

However, the SoC concept can be used to design a new generation of sensors that are more reliable, efficient, flexible and functional as a standalone sensor module.

Smart sensors can now be found everywhere, including automobiles, homes and factories. Distance sensors that turn a camera or spotlight on and off, motion sensors that control lighting and/or HVAC in a building, alarm sensors that send a wireless notification in the event of a breach and water/humidity sensors that turn on sprinklers are all in use today.

The base sensor(s) interacts directly with a microcontroller or DSP, as well as a communications module, to achieve this. An integrated smart sensor solution is created to work better rather than trying to combine all of the pieces. The tighter integration decreases latency, boosts overall performance and improves system resource utilization.

Smart Sensor Example.

Figure 1. Smart Sensor Example. Image Credit: Superior Sensor Technology

The new System-in-a-Sensor concept adds sophisticated capabilities that are application or use-case specific and can be tweaked even after a sensor has been deployed in the field. A sensor’s pattern can be controlled by an operator or based on system or external events, similar to how a smartphone’s usage pattern is controlled by the user.

System-in-a-Sensor: Benefits

Including intelligence in a system-in-a-sensor implementation can have numerous advantages. For instance, by acquiring the same system-in-a-sensor for multiple projects, the user can gain the benefit of simplified manufacturing, lower inventory costs and a streamlined supply chain.

As a manufacturer, building and creating inventory for one system will be the only concern. This reduces inventory costs and streamlines production by eliminating the need to reconfigure production lines for each product.

Furthermore, by procuring a single part and using it for multiple purposes and projects, the supply chain complexity can be significantly reduced. The user benefits from the economies of scale as the business grows.

A sensor can also be configured “on the fly” to support a wide range of features and applications.

Engineers can design products more quickly by using the same sensor in different devices and applications. Engineers will be able to freely optimize their designs throughout the development phase without the risk of having to switch to a new component, which could cause production delays.

Ultimately, the sensor’s capabilities improve overall system performance.

If architected properly the sensor will ensure maximal performance across various use cases. This is due to the sensor’s ability to turn on specific features for particular applications and is optimized for general use (facilitating multiple pressure ranges while retaining the same levels of accuracy).

The system-in-a-sensor, like an SoC, is designed to perform at its best in a spectrum of applications and configurations. Furthermore, as one sensor solution can be used to support a variety of products, a company can quickly release derivatives to expand product lines and further segment its offerings.

System-in-a-Sensor: Utilizing SoC Concepts to Transform Pressure Sensors

The NimbleSense Architecture

Superior Sensor Technology has created an innovative architecture enabling product designers to move beyond a piece-meal approach to a fully integrated module that combines the MEMS sensor with additional circuitry and software.

This modular approach is driven by intelligent software that is programmable for each end application. This architecture is called NimbleSense, and it is the industry’s first System-in-a-Sensor. This approach is the same as the one used by IC designers for designing many of the complex SoCs that power today’s smartphones, automobiles, data centers, etc.

System in a Sensor Block Diagram.

Figure 2. System in a Sensor Block Diagram. Image Credit: Superior Sensor Technology

Using the NimbleSense architecture enables product designers to create highly differentiated advanced pressure sensing systems from a technology toolbox consisting of many building blocks. This methodology greatly improves system performance in the end application, while providing enhanced features and cost-optimized manufacturing solutions.

The NimbleSense architecture combines processing intelligence with signal path integration and proprietary algorithms to enable a much simpler system design and a higher level of sensor performance.

Choosing from a wide array of proven and tested building blocks, product designers integrate the appropriate modules to create a differential pressure system optimized for their specific application requirements.

These different modules provide significant design flexibility and greatly speed up time to market. With this System-in-a-Sensor approach, a product designer can quickly and easily develop the pressure sensing solution required in their specific end product.

The Core Technology

The NimbleSense architecture was developed with the overarching goal to knock out every bit of noise before reaching the host system. To be clear, noise is anything that is not the ideal sensor information, including long-term drift, thermal errors, thermal or pressure hysteresis, etc.

The NimbleSense architecture has been designed to maximize performance while also being flexible to easily insert ‘building blocks’ that add application-specific functionality. The result is a pressure sensor architecture with a very clear signal and practically no noise.

This leads to the incredible accuracy, TEB and long-term stability performance numbers of Superior Sensor’s entire product line.

There is typically a 5 to 10x performance increase over other solutions. To improve the flexibility of the NimbleSense architecture, unique building blocks were added that provide application-specific features for various industrial, HVAC and medical devices.

Technology Building Blocks

Flexibility is at the core of the NimbleSense architecture. This unique technology allows users to quickly prototype and integrate the sensor into any product, support multiple product lines with one particular sensor, add new capabilities and features via software updates and reduce system cost through lower component count and greater product reliability.

Based on customer feedback, the Superior Sensor Technology engineering team is constantly innovating and introducing new building blocks in the NimbleSense architecture. Here is a listing of the currently available more popular blocks.

NimbleSense Architecture Building Blocks.

Figure 3. NimbleSense Architecture Building Blocks. Image Credit: Superior Sensor Technology

  1. Multi-RangeTM: Multi-range capability allows a single sensor unit to be factory calibrated and performance-optimized to support up to 8 different pressure ranges.
  2. Z-TrackTM: Z-Track employs a proprietary algorithm to virtually eliminate zero drift. Zero error reduction is critical in medical devices such as Spirometers, where an inaccurate reading can have life-changing effects.
  3. Closed Loop Control: Adds capabilities within the module to set and maintain flow rates via pressure management by directly controlling motors, valves and actuators. 
  4. Advanced Digital Filtering: Superior Sensor’s advanced digital filtering is optimized for each application to ensure mixed sampling noise is kept well below the noise floor. By removing the mechanical noise, the overall system performance is maximized.
  5. 50/60Hz Notch Filter: Superior Sensor’s notch filter allows designers to easily remove noise at either 50 Hz or 60 Hz that can impact overall system performance. Commonly used in HVAC applications, the integrated notch filter simplifies system design. 

For more details on these innovative features, please download the full white paper.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Superior Sensor Technology.

For more information on this source, please visit Superior Sensor Technology.

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