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MEMS Sensor Hub Goes All-in-One

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) are becoming so ubiquitous that new sensor hub chips -- like Apple's M8 -- are needed to fuse their data into application-specific information. PNI Sensor Corp., of Santa Rosa, Calif., already offers its SENtral hub to put Android devices on an equal footing with Apple, but now it is also integrating the most popular third-party sensors right onto its M&M-sized boards so that engineers can concentrate on their applications instead of reinventing the "sensor-fusion" wheel, according to interviews at the recent MEMS Executive Congress 2014 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"With our new M&M modules, including the MEMS sensors and our SENtral motion co-processsor running the sensor fusion algorithms, engineers can create low-power, always-on applications including pedestrian dead reckoning, context, and activity tracking, saving their engineers literally thousands of hours of development time," PNI Sensor CEO George Hsu told EE Times.

PNI Sensor Corp. recent bifurcated into two subsidiaries. PNI Sensor Corp. will address context, activity, gesture, and pedestrian dead reckoning (PDR) for consumer mobile, wearable, and Internet of Things markets. Precision Navigation Corp. (PNC) will concentrate on PNI's traditional core business of ultra-high resolution, low-noise magneto-sensor applications in automotive, industrial, and military markets. Former president and CEO of PNI Sensor Becky Oh is now president and CEO of PNC, which will continue to produce magneto-inductive sensors delivering more than 20-times the performance of MEMS or Hall Effect sensors. PNC will retain the automated fabrication and assembly line, and PNI Sensor will become a fabless chipmaker with built-in sensor-fusion algorithms.

“PNI was not a one-size-fits-all business,” Oh told us. “We believe that by splitting into two companies we can better serve our varied markets by paying closer attention to the different needs of our separate customer bases.”

PNI's plug-and-play M&M modules from will help consumers and mapping applications engineers by not requiring that the buyer pay license fees. The modules can fit in spaces as small as 11x11x1 millimeters. The 10-axis devices deliver not only location, but elevation, heading, tilt, and pitch and roll, not only for consumer applications, but also for terrestrial and oceanographic mapping, Sonar targeting, undersea pipeline construction, and navigational guidance for remote surveying vehicles.

The M&M modules can also be customized by PNI for specific algorithms at the request of the buyer and be outfitted with PDR's ultra-accurate geomagnetic sensors allowing for absolute accuracy for contextual awareness and motion processing algorithms. PNI claims its smart sensor hub also dramatically cuts the power envelope for consumer devices by allowing the application processor to remain in standby mode most of the time. SENtral has already been designed into smartwatches and smartphones running Android.