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Low-power pedestrian navigation IC operates without GPS

Posted: 08 Jan 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:PNI Sensor  GPS  navigation IC  ASIC  inertial sensor 

PNI Sensor Corp. has developed SENtrace that it boasts as the industry's first coprocessor for wearables providing truly accuracy and ultra-low power pedestrian tracking indoors, as well as in urban canyons, and which is also a CES 2016 Innovations Awards Nominee. This is a welcome technology near tall buildings and especially in large cities such as New York city where I have much personal experience with this phenomenon; so, anywhere that the global positioning systems (GPS) signal goes missing or is inadequate.

I spoke to George Hsu, PNI Sensor chair and resident tech guru, and he commented that SENtrace is a small custom ASIC that uses about 10x lower power than GPS demands. By leveraging PNI Sensor's proprietary embedded algorithms, it enables existing ultra-low power inertial sensors to track users when there is little or no GPS signal available.

Another feature that I really like is that it greatly reduces overall battery consumption because it overrides and deactivates power-hungry GPS when it's not needed. In typical configurations, the IC uses about one-tenth the power of GPS for computing each location point.

The chip provides tracking to one-meter accuracy over 100 metres traveled, supplying step-by-step data in lieu of extrapolations between two location points. This is a marked improvement over GPS, which tracks location to about 10 metres over 100 metres traveled. The PNI solution greatly augments GPS accuracy or even allows the designer to choose when and how to turn off GPS with three options: Based on time, distance traveled, or quality score.

Potential Applications

Having done some work in the area of the Continua Alliance, I have always been an advocate of tracking devices that are non-invasive and un-obtrusive to the elderly (Alzheimers sufferers) and/or children like a wrist watch or wrist band or a pendant so that these devices would not be removed.

The PNI solution has constant calibration to keep the system accurate. The IC physical board footprint is 1.7mm x 1.7mm x 0.5mm, and it is a 32bit processor with a custom floating point unit (FPU) embedded with PNI's sensor fusion tracking algorithms. These algorithms offload the tracking task from a device's main processor, thereby saving battery power as well as not loading down the main computing power of the system.

SENtrace block diagram

Here is a simple block diagram of a typical system in which SENtrace is a central feature (Image courtesy of PNI Sensor)

SENtrace's algorithms work with any sensor manufacturer's sensors, allowing wearables OEMs to select from various commercially available accelerometers, gyros and magnetic sensors. This has been one of PNI's signature aids to designers who can choose from a variety of supporting components for their system.

SENtrace specifications

SENtrace specifications

- Steve Taranovich

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