Nano-sensors set to transform earbud performance

20th February 2019
Mick Elliott

A technology which could transform sensor manufacturing will be revealed at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week (February 25-28). Start-up Nanusens which has pioneered sensors built inside CMOS will explain how its proprietary technology can significantly increase the operational life of earbuds by up to 20%.

This can be achieved by replacing the MEMS sensors in an earbud with a single multi-sensor chip solution that is up to ten times smaller, freeing up space for larger batteries.

Nanusens creates its sensors on the nanoscale within the layers of its CMOS chip that also has the control electronics. As a result, the NEMS (Nano Electro Mechanical Systems) chip is only one cubic millimetre creating a saving of three cubic millimetres for every MEMS package that it replaces.

Far less PCB estate is needed for the tiny, single chip solution compared to the PCB estate required for several MEMS packages.

This presents earbud manufacturers with more space to increase the battery size or add a supercapacitor to extend battery life. Or they could add memory devices to store music on the earbud.

Dr Josep Montanyà, CEO Nanusens, explained, This is another way to extend the battery life as songs would not need to streamed over Bluetooth.

“Giving longer audio on the go.” is Nanusens’ trade-marked slogan.

As smartphone manufacturers shift away from bulky headphone sockets to enable thinner models, earbuds become an attractive accessory enabling them to add more features.

The current earbud market is 50 million units a year and this is forecast to grow extremely fast.

“New smartphone sales are forecast to be 1.5 billion units a year so as more and more start to ship with a pair of earbuds, our total available market is phenomenal, which is why this is our first target market,” said Dr Montanyà.

“We have started discussions with the leading players in the value chain to make them aware of our innovative technology so that they can start the design-in process,” added Dr Montanyà. “Awareness of a means to significantly increase the battery life of earbuds by the phone and earbud manufacturers will create the pull through the value chain to the Bluetooth chips manufacturers. The latter provide example designs for earbuds that are often used throughout the industry so we are targeting to be in these designs.”

Nanusens will sample a 2D motion detector for earbuds in Q4 2019.This can be used to implement tap and double tap for control, wake-on-movement and sleep-on-rest functions, and, soon after, a 3D accelerometer.

A bone conduction sensor for noise cancellation is next to be integrated into the single chip solution. Chips will be available in a small package such as WLCSP or as bare die that can be attached directly to the PCB.

“Our nano-sensor technology is very adaptable so we will be using it to create a range of other sensors,” Dr Montanyà concluded. “These can be created at the same time in the same chip so many different types of sensors can be built into a tiny multi-sensor solution without taking up more space. This provides companies with a roadmap of exciting additional features to enhance the user experience such as controlling the earbuds with head gesture recognition. Our nano-sensors offer a unique combination of significantly smaller solutions, lower power needs, ruggedness, and multi-functionality in a single integrated chip so, after earbuds, we will be bringing our multi-sensor nano-solutions to the wearables and IoT markets.”

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