This list is going to keep growing, driven by pacesetters like Apple which has added a three-axis gyroscope to its latest iPhone – the first handset maker to do so
But Stephane Gervais-Ducouret, global marketing director for sensors at Freescale Semiconductor, said that as the number of smart sensors in mobiles continues to grow, so too do the challenges of effectively integrating them into the handsets.
He said doing it well not only makes more accurate navigation possible it also removes many of the barriers to using location-based services in previously difficult environments, such as indoors or in urban canyons.
“It enables more accurate navigation which is key for indoor navigation. Before, accuracy was 10-20 metres using wifi positioning or a combination of wifi and cell ID,” he said.
“You need to combine more and more technologies in order to improve this accuracy. The target accuracy is two metres for indoor navigation and for that you need to add information from the user.
“This is where you need a very accurate accelerometer, a magnetometer for the absolute direction, you will also need an altimeter. A gyroscope can be useful as well for having more accurate acceleration measurement in any direction.
“So it means that you need to use all this data. Today the need is to combine all this data and manage all these sensors.”
Freescale has just announced it will be releasing an intelligent sensor platform in Q1 of 2011 as part of its Xtrinsic brand of sensors.
While the sensing solutions are intended for use across the automotive, consumer and industrial markets the Austin, Texas-headquartered company has invested heavily in developing them for mobile and portable devices.
Combined with an accelerometer, the intelligent hub has some dedicated architecture that allows it to manage sensors from third parties.
It can also start the aggregation of the sensors before providing this to a positioning system or to an application processor.
Gervais-Ducouret said the solution is an industry-first and is a step towards a solution for sensor fusion.
He said it can gather information from magnetometers, gyroscopes or pressure sensors and start to pre-process the data and do some data aggregation.
The sensor platform is currently being sampled by some of Freescale's Tier 1 customers in the mobile phone industry.
“So we are targeting smartphones rather than basic phones. Since the latter only has one accelerometer the intelligent sensor platform is not so useful,” he said.
“However, when you start to have two or three or four sensors, which is happening now in new smartphones such as the iPhone 4, then it starts to be very interesting.
“This is because it's exponentially more difficult to integrate more sensors because each one has its own type of calibration and communication.
“So a phone maker working on a mobile platform wants something that's easy to handle and that is sensor agnostic in case they want to swap sensor vendors.”