While it is clear the inertial sensor market has become worth multibillion dollars per year, driven by deployment in mobile phones, tablets and other portable equipment for such functions as screen orientation and step counting for dead reckoning, the same cannot be said for environmental sensing. Despite talk that environmental sensing including gas sensing could be about to come into the smartphone handset.
"Today the environment sensor market is small. And gas sensing is present more in automotive and industrial. But we are noticing Chinese customers have a strong interest in CO2 levels, in air quality, in alcohol on the breath for mobile markets and wearable fitness bands. Our customers are under pressure to differentiate so it may find take up in mobile."
The breath analyser as an enabler of the ignition of the engine will come, Everke said, but in the automotive sector developments take a long time. In the consumer market it will happen with a combination of metal-oxide gas sensors together with relative humidity and temperature sensing.
"In mobile the holes are going away. The last two holes are the speaker output and the microphone input so we are developing solutions that put audio and environmental sensing together but it is a challenge."
In the area of optics Everke stressed that AMS is not going after commodity CMOS image sensor business but is looking to add value with specialist sensing. "We have business with a camera manufacturer that combines an image sensor with spectral imaging that can identify the freshness of produce. We want to be at the high-end for industrial applications or for 4K/8K image sensors. We have a time-of-flight (ToF) chip under development that will be introduced in 2017." And Heptagon already has a ToF component albeit based on a third party silicon, Everke said.
AMS also has expertise in analog and mixed-signal IC development for audio. In active noise cancellation AMS is an ASIC provider to leading microphone supplier Knowles. "We intend to expand the portfolio step by step. In the past we were pure analog but we are adding digital. Analog provides the lowest power, highest performance and smallest form factor but digital eases design, interfacing and lowers cost."
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