Mr. Vishal GOYAL, Senior Manager – Technical Marketing, Analog MEMS and Sensors [AMS], India, Asean and ANZ, STMicroelectronics talks about Electronic Wearable devices and how they are changing the way we function.
Wearable are electronic devices which are small and light weight which can be worn by the user. They are getting adopted as watches, fashion accessory, fitness tracker, security devices or specialized medical gadgets. A wearable device may be independent in its functioning or it may act as accessory to other device such as tablet or Smartphone. In this case it is mainly used as input or output device with some computing power.
Historically, watches and wearable calculators have been very popular but with the emergence of Bluetooth low energy connectivity, low power technology and sensors wearable are available in various forms such as Smart watches, wrist band, jewelry, arm band, connected clothes etc… This article will elaborate more on wearable architecture and the innovative technologies which are transforming our lives.
As the name suggest wearable are worn by user for an extended period of time and continuously remain on and connected. So a typical wearable device should have following attributes.
a) Always on
Wearables are continuously on the job and monitor or output key data for the user. They may have sleep mode but never OFF.
b) Low Power
As wearables are miniature devices and run on small battery they should consume ultra-low current. A wearable device which requires frequent charging will lose its purpose. The emergence of low power technologies has enabled the revolution in this industry.
As they are worn by user they should be small enough to take various usable and aesthetic forms. A bulky device will be extra burden on user and will lose its acceptance.
d) Environment aware
Environment sensing is emerging as a key driver for wearable acceptance. Today wearable devices can monitor not only user activity information but also temperature, humidity, UV radiation etc.
Wearable devices should be intelligent enough to filter out noise from the real data. They should be able to alert user when any important information needs to be shared. For example, a security wrist band should be able to send alert when user has met accident or need SOS help.
Connectivity is the most important factor for emergence and acceptance of wearable. These devices can be connected to smartphones or tablet using technologies such as Bluetooth, wifi etc. Besides, they can also be connected to GPS satellites to monitor user location.
A typical wearable device not only contain MEMS devices we discussed but also analog front end – OP-AMPs and switches, power management, battery monitoring as well as wireless connection. We will discuss OP-AMP and BLE in detail as they constitute very important part of an wearable device.
Analog sensors need signal transducers to deliver the information to the MCU. These signal transducers should have following key features
- Accurate and stable to guarantee the maximum precision of the information
- Low power to guarantee a longer user experience
- Small to be integrated in the most stylish and thin designs
A low input offset voltage with zero drift amplifiers is mandatory. Otherwise the electrodes information would be less accurate or lost. Once the signal dynamic has been restored precision and micro power consumption amplifiers are needed before the signal is fed to the MCU
Bluetooth Smart [BLE]
Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth Low Energy [BLE] is a standard that enables connectivity of low power devices and sensors. It uses short wavelength radio transmission at 2.4GHz band. Using Bluetooth Smart it is possible to enable two way communications between various devices wirelessly with incredible battery life. BLE enabled devices can also work seamlessly with the compatible smartphone and benefit from the rich user interface. Smartphone can also transfer data over the cloud using other connectivity such as GPRS.
Bluetooth low energy technology operates in the same spectrum as Classic Bluetooth technology but it enables ultra-low power connectivity and basic data transfer for applications previously limited by the power consumption
Major Applications of Wearables
a) Fitness and Wellness
Connected Smart watches, activity monitors, pedometers enable users to monitor their fitness activity through their smartphones. Wearable are also available as activity monitors, foot pads, sleep sensors and heart rate monitors. Wearable also allows to optimize sports performance, goal monitoring, weight control, direction data and location sharing.
Heart rate monitors, glucose monitors, pulse oximeters can now be connected to Smartphones through BLE. BLE not only allow these gadgets to connect to smartphones wirelessly but also get connected to internet through smartphones. It will enable information to be stored on cloud and share with doctors and family members. BLE has also enabled these gadget to be placed at strategic locations such as shoes, wrist etc. BLE support many healthcare related profiles such as glucose meters, heart rate monitoring, thermometer and blood pressure.
c) Proximity and Anti-theft accessories
A small BLE accessory when tagged to pets and kids can alert the smartphone if they sneak out of reach. BLE enabled car keys can be found easily with the help of connected Smartphone. Wallets and luggage tagged with BLE can alert the Smartphone if some try to steal them.
d) Security and tracking
A wearable watch or tracking devices allows kids location to be constantly monitored by their parents. These devices are also used as SOS device by kids and women when in danger. A connected device will send signal to smartphone which in turn will SMS user location to the concerned authorities and family members.