MIPI Alliance releases MIPI I3C sensor-interface specification

Jan. 9, 2017

Piscataway, NJ. The MIPI Alliance, an international organization that develops interface specifications for mobile and mobile-influenced industries, today released MIPI I3C, for “Improved Inter-Integrated Circuit,” a sensor-interface specification that streamlines sensor integration in smartphones, wearables, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and automotive systems.

“Today’s release of MIPI I3C is an important milestone for MIPI Alliance and the developer community because it brings together multiple-sensor interface approaches around a unifying specification that provides conveniences and system-level benefits for many applications,” said Joel Huloux, chairman of the board of MIPI Alliance. “We expect MIPI I3C will play a fundamental role in expanding opportunities for sensor-based applications in mobile, mobile-influenced, and embedded-systems markets.”

MIPI I3C addresses sensor integration challenges

MIPI I3C supports the adoption and proliferation of sensors in mobile-connected products. It makes it easier to integrate sensors in small space-constrained form factors, alleviates interface fragmentation, helps minimize pin count, and controls system-wide energy consumption. The specification gives developers a greater choice of design options, reduces system-level implementation costs, and helps shorten time-to-market for new applications.

MIPI I3C delivers these benefits by incorporating, consolidating, and advancing I2C, SPI, and UART with a new approach. The solution is comprehensive and scalable and provides a superset of features and functionalities while supporting legacy devices.

“The unified approach of MIPI I3C provides many strategic advantages for developers,” said Rick Wietfeldt, chair of the MIPI Alliance Technical Steering Group. “For example, with MIPI I3C, most types of I2C devices can coexist with I3C devices on the same bus, enabling vendors to migrate current I2C designs to the new standard. Likewise, newly designed MIPI I3C devices can work on existing legacy I2C buses.”

MIPI I3C specifies a chip-to-chip interface that can connect all sensors in a device to the application processor. It is implemented on a standard CMOS I/O using two wires. The specification achieves clock rates up to 12.5 MHz and provides options for higher performance, high-data rate modes. It uses a fraction of the power while providing more than an order of magnitude more bandwidth compared with I2C.

Versatility for multiple use cases and sensor classifications

MIPI I3C can be used to build smartphones, virtual-reality head-mounted devices, robot drones, medical instruments, autonomous vehicles, industrial equipment, all-in-one computers, and TV remotes, among others.

The specification supports numerous sensor classifications and functions. Examples include accelerometers, touch screens, time-of-flight cameras, sonic/ultrasonic sensors, transducers, and actuators. MIPI I3C also supports a range of biometric sensors and environmental sensors and can be used to interface sensors used for near-field communications, haptics feedback, and infrared or ultraviolet sensing.

Although MIPI I3C was originally developed to meet the needs of sensor applications, it can also be applied anywhere low-to-medium bandwidth devices benefitting from integrated data and control via byte-based transmission are found, such as power management and control interfaces. In addition, MIPI I3C will be utilized in other MIPI specifications under development, including MIPI Touch and MIPI Debug for I3C. MIPI Alliance welcomes industry participation in this work and invites member companies to collaborate in the creation of these forthcoming specifications.

Industry-wide collaboration on MIPI I3C

The MIPI Alliance Sensor Working Group developed MIPI I3C to ensure the specification benefits companies across the sensor ecosystem. The working group collaborated with the MEMS and Sensors Industry Group (MSIG) to survey both organizations’ members to assess sensor interface needs and industry technology gaps that traditional sensor interfaces did not address.

Companies participating in the working group include Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Analogix Semiconductor Inc., Cadence Design Systems Inc., Google Inc., Intel Corp., Knowles Electronics, Lattice Semiconductor Corp., MediaTek Inc., NXP Semiconductor, Qualcomm Inc., QuickLogic, Sony Corp., STMicroelectronics, and Synopsys Inc.

“This has been a truly collaborative effort, and we appreciate the dedicated and visionary work that has produced the MIPI I3C specification,” said Ken Foust, chair of the MIPI Alliance Sensor Working Group. “MIPI I3C is practical and forward looking. We will continue to advance the specification to help companies serve the always-evolving and increasingly demanding markets for innovative, sensor-enriched products.”

Several representatives of the collaborative effort offered comment on the Sensor Working Group and the MIPI I3C specification.

“Cadence has been a key member of the MIPI Alliance since 2007 and has actively participated in the Sensor Working Group to define the I3C specification,” said Dino Bekis, vice president of marketing for the IP Group at Cadence. “We are accelerating adoption of this new standard by providing design and verification IP to enable a wide array of mobile, wearable, and automotive products and platforms. Our complete IP solution is leveraged by several industry-leading customers today, and we expect rapid market proliferation of MIPI I3C moving forward.”

“The MIPI I3C specification offers significant bandwidth improvements and dramatically reduced power for the mobile industry, while preserving backward compatibility with the I2C standard,” said Satwant Singh, senior director of strategic planning, Lattice Semiconductor. “The new I3C interface will enable more intelligent and energy-efficient sensor connectivity in next-generation mobile devices that need to be always on and always aware.”

“The I3C interface provides a faster, lower pin count, lower power upgrade to the I2C interface,” said Ho Wai Wong-Lam, vice president, strategy, BU Security and Connectivity, NXP Semiconductors. “Developed with wide industry support, I3C will find applications in the mobile, automotive and IoT markets among others. I3C can be used in sensors, serial memories, MCUs, chipsets, and several peripheral ICs. Building on our strong leadership in I3C specification development, NXP has developed I3C IP blocks for internal use. We make these available through Silvaco to help the industry quickly adopt I3C.”

“Today’s smartphones and wearable devices integrate a wide array of sensors into small form factors,” said Justin McGloin, senior director, Sensors Group, Qualcomm. “I3C will allow integration of greater numbers and types of sensors into these types of device through reduced connections and faster speeds. We expect that I2C components will quickly move to support compatibility with I3C if they do not do so already today.”

“Providing a broadly applicable industry-standard interface to sensors will prove incredibly valuable to the electronics industry and open up developers’ creativity to design smart products for driving, cities, homes, and factories,” said Andrea Onetti, vice president, Analog and MEMS Group at STMicroelectronics. “We are already working to upgrade our sensor products with the new I3C interface to continue to bring to market innovative semiconductor solutions for smart driving, the Internet of Things, and many other exciting applications.”

“Mobile, automotive, and IoT applications are incorporating more sensors to interpret environmental conditions such as motion, proximity, and temperature,” said John Koeter, vice president of marketing for IP at Synopsys. “As a member of the MIPI board of directors and Sensor Working Group, Synopsys drives the adoption of the I3C specification by providing high-quality, MIPI-compliant IP that enables the integration of sensor functionality into SoCs.”

To learn more about MIPI I3C download the “Introduction to the MIPI I3C Standardized Sensor Interface” whitepaper: http://bit.ly/2gId6BL

See related article “MIPI nears release of I3C sensor interface.”

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