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Kionix Takes MEMS Inertial Sensors to CES

Kionix Takes MEMS Inertial Sensors to CES

In a market crowded with dozens of MEMS manufacturers, Kionix has compiled a catalogue of targeted designs that landed it major contracts with smartphone (Motorola Droid Bionic), tablet (Samsung Galaxy Tab), gaming console (Xbox), and other high-volume manufacturers (Asus, Acer, Lenova) while it was still a small single-source startup.

Now that it has been acquired by Rohm Co. Ltd. (Kyoto, Japan), Kionix is expanding its targeted design philosophy with multi-sensor combos, fusion software, and a second-sourcing strategy aimed to catapult it into maturing mega-markets.

"We have doubled our capacity each year for last three years," says Scott Miller, vice president of engineering at Kionix, which to date does all its manufacturing at its headquarters in Ithaca, N.Y. "In 2012, we will finish the transition from six-inch to eight-inch wafers in Ithaca, plus we are building a new eight-inch fab in Japan."

The Japanese fab will give Kionix a second-source manufacturing plant -- a requirement for Tier 1 OEMs like Apple -- which will arrive just in time for Kionix's new crop of combo and ultra-small inertial sensors. In addition, Kionix promises a three-axis magnetometer in 2012 to add to its three-axis accelerometers and three-axis gyroscopes, enabling it to supply complete inertial measurement units (IMUs).

At the Consumer Electronics Show (Jan. 10-13), Kionix will be showing its latest and most advanced MEMS inertial sensors, including its first six-degree-of-freedom combo-sensor -- a three-axis accelerometer wire-bonded to a three-axis gyroscope, stacked atop a single application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), all packed into a single 4x4 millimeter package.

"Our combo part has the lowest power consumption in the industry [4 milliamps operating] plus you can put everything to sleep except the accelerometer for ultra-low-power [10 microamps asleep] with auto wakeup when motion is detected," says Ed Brachocki, director of marketing at Kionix.

A pin on the chip can also send a signal to shut down other circuits, such as an altimeter (barometric pressure sensor); and on-chip, first-in-first-out (FIFO) memory enables the combo part to log readings while waiting to be polled by the application processor. An extra I2C input is also provided for receiving the output from a three-axis magnetometer, so that its data can be synched with the accelerometer and gyroscope readings, which are all stored sequentially in the 1024-byte FIFO buffer for true 9-degrees-of-freedom operation.

The new accelerometer alone is also being made available in a legacy 3x3 millimeter package as well as a new ultra-small 2x2 millimeter package for the most demanding ultra-small mobile handsets (where real-estate savings justify the extra cost) and for handling equipment needed for assembling boards with such small devices. Kionix is also announcing a smaller dedicated gyro at CES, a 4x4 millimeter version of the gyro in its new combo sensor.

Hardware-wise, these next-generation MEMS devices utilize a new redesigned mechanical sensing element (pictured above) which can better tolerate shock and high-temperatures, eliminating the need to re-calibrate a sensor after they have been installed on printed circuit boards using solder reflow systems.

Software-wise, Kionix now also supplies the software to perform the sensor fusion necessary to meld the outputs from multiple MEMS sensors into reliable, rock-solid readings of location, orientation, and motion. Kionix's new sensor fusion suite includes calibration, compensation, and power management algorithms, which can run on an inexpensive TI, Atmel, or ARM dedicated micro-controller, or even on a devices application processor itself. The software suite also includes magnetic field rejection algorithms that eliminate the need for end-user calibration steps like the dreaded "figure eight" required today before using digital compass functions on a smartphone.

Kionix supplies the complete source code for its new sensor fusion software suite and will be demonstrating versions for both Android and Windows 8 operating systems at CES 2012.

This story was originally posted by EE Times.

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