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Intelligent Processor Eases Sensor Interface DesignIntelligent Processor Eases Sensor Interface Design

Benefits include simplified sensor design, reduced space requirements, and potentially improved user interactions.

Spencer Chin

April 26, 2022

3 Min Read
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Synaptics' FlexSense fusion processor captures and intelligently processes input from up to four sensors.Image courtesy of Synaptics

Touch sensing company Synaptics® Inc. has refocused its business model to serve the booming IoT market. As part of this trend, the company has introduced its FlexSense family of fusion processors that addresses the complexities of integrating inputs from multiple sensors.

The processor captures and intelligently processes input from up to four sensors—concurrently—in a tiny, ultra-low-power form factor that is 80% smaller compared to existing solutions, according to the company. The processor has the ability to integrate combinations of capacitive, inductive, Hall effect and ambient sensing modalities onto a single processor. This, in turn, can enhance the end-user experience by bringing reliable, low-latency, and context-aware force, proximity, and touch sensing to Internet of things (IoT) devices such as true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds, gaming controllers, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets, and wearables.

“Today’ sensors generally do not talk to one another,” said Mahesh Srinivasan, VP Smart Sensing & Display for Synaptics, in a conference call with Design News. “And today’s applications often require the use of multiple sensors together, in increasingly smaller form factors.”

Srinivasan noted that gaming controllers, for instance, use multiple sensors, buttons, joysticks, and triggers. FlexSense uses associated software to centralize the inputs from all the sensors onto a single processor. This helps to ensure reliable performance across moisture and temperature variations and to eliminate false or unintentional sensor stimuli for devices such as smart thermostats, remote controls, fitness bands, gaming controllers, and TWS earbuds.

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For instance, being able to accept sensing touch + force inputs could reliably determines intent. Inputs from temperature + force + touch could ensure the interface is reliable when wet. And, inputs from proximity + dock detect could avoid mistouches.

Improving the User Interface

The bottom line is that the processor enables more nuanced detection of user intent for gesture, swipe, force, squeeze, docking, or the rotation of a knob. This enables developers to create a seamless and intuitive interactive experience for IoT devices, whether they are games, automotive instrument panels, or industrial controls.

The processor enables developers to speed time to market by providing a simple, out-of-the box solution with a single processor and up to eight analog input channels that can be configured to mix and match up to four different sensors. The processor versions can also include a magnetic field sensor to enable integrated, Hall-effect sensing directly on the chip. This can be used for dock detection, contactless buttons, and other applications.

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Once set up, configured, and calibrated, the FlexSense processor makes contextual sense of all sensor data to measure force (push, intent), touch (tap, hold, slide), proximity (in-ear detection, body presence), and dock detection. Real-time analysis of the incoming data, as well as ambient conditions such as temperature, ensures the optimum response to match user expectations, a key element of an intuitive and seamless user experience. 

The S1000 Series controller is contained in a single package measuring 2.62 mm2, down from the four ICs and 16.04 mm2 of typical solutions—corresponding to an 80% decrease in footprint. It consumes 240 µW (typically) in-ear (for a TWS application), and 10 µW in a dock or “sleep” mode.

According to Synaptics’ Mahesh Srinivasan, the processor will initially be available in three versions for various headsets. A version for a gaming platform and AR/VR applications will follow later. Samples are available now with production quantities expected later this year.

Synaptics is also offering an evaluation kit with core functions, such as slider, touch, flick slider gestures, inductive, and Hall effect sensing programmable through Synaptics’ Configuration Tool.


About the Author(s)

Spencer Chin

Senior Editor, Design News

Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor with Design News, covering the electronics beat.

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