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AFE technology makes embedded sensors smarter

Posted: 26 Oct 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:analogue  front end  sensors  MCU  embedded 

Renesas Electronics Corp. launches Smart Analog, a fully configurable analogue front-end technology for enabling smarter sensors in embedded designs.

Sensor devices require tuning of circuitry to convert analogue signals from the sensor itself into a signal appropriate for an MCU ADC sub-system. This is an iterative tuning process that is time-consuming, adversely affecting time-to-market for most projects. The analogue front end (AFE), an essential system building block to a sensor circuit, amplifies and/or filters sensor signals that are often weak, or its electrical configurations differ from the one used by the MCU.

The AFE that performs this bridging function is often difficult to simulate and must be adjusted because of specific component behaviour, board layout, and nearby noise sources. In many cases, engineers must use a trial-and-error method to calibrate the right analogue circuit design.

Thus, the Smart Analog AFE features configurable amplifier circuits that are adaptable to hundreds of sensor applications. It implements a range of AFE topologies that can be easily programmed to support countless types of sensors with a single device. The technology uses a set of configurable amplifier circuits which can be tailored using an intelligent and intuitive software GUI. This configurability enables the engineer to adjust for sensor, board, noise and other characteristics without board-level experimentation. As Smart Analog is field programmable, the circuit characteristics can be modified for sensor drift after equipment is installed, therefore reducing service and maintenance costs for system vendors. With Smart Analog technology, sensors such as accelerometers, flow, ultrasonic distance, gas/chemical, or even human body sensors can be easily tuned to meet the system requirements for a wide range of industrial, commercial and medical applications.

The AFE offers a smaller footprint than other solutions because it replaces the discrete components that typically measure and regulate sensor data, into a single semiconductor package. Discrete component count can be reduced by as much as a factor of ten, allowing for a much smaller overall footprint. Also, the power-on/off feature of each block of Smart Analog sub-system yields significant savings in power consumption, in some cases as much as 20 per cent.

And an engineer need no longer be an analogue expert to design an AFE. Engineers will be able to get their development projects up and running quickly and easily with the GUI-based sensor configuration software tool that enables "on the fly" configuration and simulation of the analogue front-end, by allowing the designer to easily change gain values or do offset tuning. This simplifies sensor calibration and debugging and can reduce the overall design lead time between 3 to 8 months significantly lowering development costs.

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