Enabling Smarter Sensors
Sensing devices play an increasingly important role in many areas of modern life — at our workplace, in industry, at home, as well as our personal mobile devices. In consumer applications, sensor-based electronic control provides us with additional safety, health information, power savings, and overall convenience. And for more complex systems in industry and commercial applications, the trend is toward more intelligent sensors that deliver more precise and "intelligent" data to improve product quality, increase operational savings, and reduce energy consumption.
However, each sensor has its unique electrical characteristics and require painstaking tuning of circuitry to convert weak or varied signals into a value that is usable for a microcontroller (MCU). The challenge then is to have a flexible platform that will allow a user to adapt to varied interface requirements, simplify the tuning process, and have the ability to add intelligence based on the information received.
Renesas introduces a new technology that allows interfacing to hundreds of sensor types with a single, configurable analog front end (AFE) platform – resulting in more intelligent sensors with a smaller footprint, while significantly reducing development time.
Analog Front End Brings Sensor and Microcontroller Together
AFE Analog Circuitry
- Amplifies weak signals
- Conditions & filters signal to remove noise
- Converts signal type (current to voltage)
- Monitors signal for performance drift
The analog front end (AFE) is an essential system building block to a sensor circuit that amplifies and/or filters sensor signals that are often weak and may have complex electrical configurations to support different MCUs. In addition, the AFE that performs this vital bridging function is often difficult to simulate and must be adjusted because of specific component behavior, board layout, and nearby noise sources.
Smart Analog technology implements a range of AFE topologies designed to be easily configured to support countless types of sensors with a single device. Smart Analog key highlights:
- Flexibility – A set of configurable amplifier circuits can easily be tailored using an intelligent and intuitive software GUI.
- Eliminate trial-and-error soldering – Adjust for sensor, board, noise and other characteristics without hardware-level experimentation.
- Field programmable – Circuit characteristics can be modified for sensor drift after equipment is installed reducing service and maintenance costs.
- Simplified tuning – Easily tune circuits to meet the system requirements for a wide range of industrial, commercial and medical applications.
Even if you are new to the analog design field, engineers will be able to get their development projects up and running quickly and easily.
- A powerful GUI-based sensor configuration software tool enables quick configuration of the analog front-end, allowing the designer to easily change gain values or do offset tuning.
- Ability to do sensor calibration and debugging "on the fly" can reduce the overall design lead time between 3 to 8 months depending on the complexity of the design.
Smart Analog technology replaces discrete components that typically measure and regulate sensor data
- Reduce the number of components compared to conventional analog front end implementations by a factor of ten!
- Up to 20% lower power consumption
- Flexible low power modes
- Power-on/off function of each block
- Reduce the PCB footprint by 25%
Receive the benefit of the MCUs intelligence used to automate trimming and automatically correct long-term drift
Previously, trimming had to be performed manually during manufacture of the sensor equipment to absorb variations in sensor characteristics. But with Smart Analog, the configuration and characteristics of the analog circuits are controlled automatically by the MCU. Smart Analog is also field programmable, allowing long-term sensor drift to be automatically corrected and repaired. This prolongs the life of your system and raises its added value.
Practical Example of Field Programmability (Light Sensor)
Due to time, weathering or other factors, the sensor may become dirty and its characteristics drift over time, causing a drop in sensitivity
If the output gain of the sensor remains the same as when the sensor was first installed, the MCU stops detecting the sensor output sooner once it falls below the detection threshold. With the Smart Analog, it is able to detect the drop in sensor output.
Smart Analog is able to raise the output gain automatically so that the MCU maintains its detection performance. This means that if the luminance is within the detection range, it will be detected normally.
The Smart Analog technology expands Renesas' portfolio of technology solutions to provide developers with a platform on which to innovate while focusing their core areas of expertise. For more information about the Smart Analog platform, please contact us.