Sensors Blitz the CES Stage—AR/VR, 3D Finger Scanning, Automotive LiDAR, and More

January 13, 2021 by Jake Hertz

Innovations in smart technology call for innovations in sensor ICs. Here are a few that have stood out in the first few days of CES 2021.

Only halfway through the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and the event is already revealing trends around the industry—smart medical devices to accommodate a post-COVID-19 society, Wi-Fi 6E-compatible devices, and a more concrete rollout of 5G products, among many others. As is common at CES, sensors are often central to these emerging technologies. 

Big-name companies like Qualcomm and TDK have announced new sensor products, joined by newcomers like LiDAR manufacturer Blickfeld. TDK alone released seven new sensor products. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the new releases and discuss why sensor technology has taken center stage at the event.


TDK Unveils Seven New Smart Sensors

TDK made many headlines on Day 1 of CES 2021, releasing seven new sensor products. Perhaps most notably, the company introduced a new line of SmartMotion sensors designed for IoT, robotics, and AR/VR. The new chips, the ICM-40627 and ICM-42688-V, are MEMS-based motion tracking ICs. Both chips are 6-axis tracking devices, which integrate a 3-axis gyroscope and a 3-axis accelerometer in a single package. 


ICM-40627 and ICM-42688-V

New sensors, ICM-40627 and ICM-42688-V. Image used courtesy of TDK

The ICM-40627 was designed for applications that require accurate pointing and motion control, including smart pointing, hand gestures, and orienting a smart TV remote. This could be useful in AR/VR applications where hand gestures guide the user’s experience. 

The ICM-42688-V, on the other hand, was designed for high-orientation accuracy applications such as robotics, IoT, and AR/VR. According to TDK, the ICM-42688-V includes two innovations not available in any other consumer-grade IMU: a clock with 100% accuracy and a high-resolution ADC.

The accurate clock is said to eliminate timing errors while the ADC provides an eight times increase in gyroscope resolution and a four times increase in accelerometer resolution. TDK claims that the sensor can provide an output with less than one degree of error. 

Some of the other sensors released by TDK include: 


Qualcomm Releases 3D Fingerprint Sensors 

Qualcomm also added to the sensors released on CES Day 1 with its 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2


Qualcomm’s 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2

Qualcomm’s 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2. Screenshot used courtesy of Qualcomm

The new sensor is the second generation of Qualcomm's in-display fingerprint sensors meant for smartphones. The sensor uses acoustics to scan fingerprint features in 3D all the way down to the pores in order to obtain a highly-accurate image of a user’s fingerprint.

The benefit of this technique is that the sensor can scan through solid materials such as glass. This, along with the 0.2 mm thickness of the sensor, makes it useful in smartphones with thin form factors, particularly ones that incorporate OLED displays. 


Blickfeld Hones In on LiDAR Sensors

Blickfeld took a different direction from IoT or smartphone sensors and zeroed in on a new suite of automotive LiDAR sensors. The line of sensors includes three products: Vision Mini, Vision Plus, and the MEMS Scanning Module 118. Each sensor serves a different automotive application. 

The Vision Mini is a mid-range LiDAR sensor with a field of view of 107 degrees and a range of 150 meters. When installed into side-view mirrors, headlights, and rearview mirrors, Blickfeld says users will experience a 360-degree field.


Blickfeld MEMS scanning Module 118

Blickfeld MEMS scanning Module 118. Image used courtesy of Business Wire

The Vision Plus is a long-range sensor for use at the front and rear of the vehicle. With a range up to 200 meters, the sensor can be used in unison with the Vision Mini to achieve level 2+ automation, according to Blickfeld. 

Finally, the MEMS Scanning Module 118 is a laser-scanning unit that offers a large aperture, wide deflection angles, and high optical power. 


The Rise of Smart Tech Brings the Rise of Sensors

Arguably, one of the biggest trends in tech is the rise of artificial intelligence and generally making devices “smarter.” Underlying these software advancements is hardware developments like the sensors released by TDK, Qualcomm, Blickfeld, and many others at CES.

To make devices smarter, designers must find ways to integrate advanced sensor technology that accurately and reliably obtains and synthesizes information from their surroundings.