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Q&A: Freescale’s Ian Chen Discusses Sensor Fusion

Dec. 8, 2014
Technology Editor Bill Wong talks with Freescale’s Ian Chen about sensor fusion and the latest technology tools from Freescale.
Manager of Marketing, Freescale Sensor Solution Division

is heavy into microcontrollers and sensors. If follows, then, that the company is now looking to combine sensor-fusion technology with the Internet of Things (IoT).

I recently talked with Ian Chen, manager of marketing for Freescale's Sensor Solution Division, about these issues and the tools that Freescale is delivering to developers.

Wong: What is sensor fusion and why is it necessary?

Chen: Sensor fusion encompasses a variety of techniques that leverage the inherent strengths of individual sensors to achieve more accurate results than what’s possible from individual components. Sensor fusion improves the quality and noise level of computed results by taking advantage of known data redundancies between sensors and knowledge of system transfer functions, dynamic behavior, and/or expected motion.

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As a result of sensor-fusion software, the data generated by sensors can be computed into more accurate information. This makes it easier to add more sensors to more things, building a broader base of intelligent devices and end nodes to join the burgeoning IoT.

Wong: What are the benefits of making sensor fusion an open source piece of software?

Chen: Sensor fusion is a fundamental building block for motion sensing. Today’s effort in sensor fusion centers on smartphones and tablet applications, for which multiple vendors provide proprietary software in binary form. However, sensor fusion is applicable to many more applications, particularly as the IoT continues to grow, including tracking movements of cameras, to orienting antenna systems, to robotic appliances and more. These applications address different use cases, each requiring different bandwidth, temperature variations, background noises, etc., necessitating customization to the sensor-fusion algorithm to optimize performance.

Open source provides an opportunity for these customers, many of which are creating innovative IoT applications, to have the confidence in adopting Freescale’s sensor-fusion code and making the customized adaptations they need for their unique application. To further help accelerate the development of these innovative applications, we’re also providing premium support to reduce risk for customers by providing guidance and support as they customize the algorithm to meet their needs.

Wong: How will it impact trends such as the Internet of Things?

Chen: Sensor data is a fundamental element of the IoT. It’s part of what makes the IoT intelligent. However, making sense of sensor data has also slowed the development of the IoT, since there are often underlying redundancies within the data generated by different sensors. By leveraging sensor fusion, it becomes easier and faster to add more sensors to more things, with an easy way to accommodate those redundancies and create ultra-accurate information in the process. Making key building blocks such as sensor fusion broadly available to every developer through open source, and offering easy customization through Freescale’s premium support, will help generate new use cases and applications for the IoT.

Wong: How will it drive innovation outside of existing trends and products?

Chen: Sensor fusion is a fundamental software technology for many applications, including computing, mobile, and wearables. Sensor-fusion software is often a necessary component of sensor-based secure embedded processing solutions. Although it has been in the market for many years, sensor fusion has been kept proprietary, slowing its adoption and, consequently, slowing the adoption of sensor technology and limiting the use of sensors in new IoT applications.

By bringing sensor-fusion software into an open-source setting, we’re making it much easier to use sensor technology to add intelligence to new applications. This will make it possible to create entirely new classes of smart products that bring data and information to consumers about their daily lives, enabling them to make more informed, intelligent decisions about their energy use, food consumption, commute, and more.

Wong: What impact will this have on the use of sensors?

Chen: Today, sensor fusion for the consumer market is concentrated in high-end cell phones and expensive toys (such as quadcopters). By bringing quality sensor-fusion software into an open-source setting, entrepreneurs and innovators can try to create more use cases more quickly. Freescale is helping to ensure that developers can easily leverage sensors to create new, innovative applications, particularly in the IoT. This will help drive the sensor industry to its “trillion sensors” goal.

Wong: What’s included in the sensor-fusion starter kit, and how will it help those looking to design with sensors?

Chen: Freescale’s development kit supports the MEMS Industry Group’s Accelerated Innovation Community open-source sensor-fusion software. It incorporates award-winning e-compass and sensor-fusion software, Freescale’s Kinetis Design Studio development environment, and its CodeWarrior embedded software development suite for microcontrollers. It also combines Freescale Freedom development boards for Kinetis K64 MCUs (FRDM-K64F), and for sensors with Bluetooth (FRDM-FXS-MULTI-B). Premium software development support from Freescale is available through a private software support portal. The kit is offered at $170 USD. The premium software development support package includes a private portal with up to 50 hours support at a price of $10,000 USD. For more information, go to www.freescale.com/FRDM-SFUSION. With this kit, developers will get instant gratification. They will have the convenience of ready-made hardware that the open source code will run on. Developers can have the source code, proven hardware, and evaluate the performance verified by Freescale.

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This file type includes high resolution graphics and schematics when applicable.

Ian Chen manages marketing, systems architecture, software, and algorithm development for Freescale's Sensor Solution Division. He held senior business, marketing and engineering leadership positions at Sensor Platforms, Mobius Microsystems, Analogix Semiconductor, Cypress Semiconductor, IC Works, National Semiconductor, and Texas Instruments. He received Bachelor and Master degrees in electrical engineering, as well as an MBA, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He also holds more than ten patents.

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