Wednesday, March 07, 2012

#MEMS: "Motion Control Vaults Augmented Reality"

Augmented reality (AR) dazzled consumers at the recent Mobile World Congress (MWC 2012, Feb. 27-Mar.1, Barcelona) where splashy "x-ray-glasses" revealed hidden content. However, new behind-the-scenes motion-processing developments promised that there is much more to come.

Motion processing abounded at the Mobile World Congress (MWC 2012, Feb. 27-Mar.1, Barcelona), with novel new apps reaching beyond augmented reality (AR) to harness the untapped potential of today's smartphone's and tablet's micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS).

AR uses MEMS-provided location and orientation data to overlay tactical information atop camera views of the real world. The technology can be used to display user-posted reviews outside restaurants, to 3D games that pop-up from 2D boards, to revealing hidden content in newspapers and magazines. For instance, Qualcomm's software development kit (SDK) dubbed Vuforia at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2012, Jan. 10-13, Las Vegas, Nev.), was responsible for numerous AR demos at the recent MWC. Even Google chairman Eric Schmidt touted AR in his keynote, although he did not reveal any more details about Google's X Glasses which are rumored to provide a heads-up AR display inside a pair of spectacles.

Novel AR demo developed with Qualcomm's Augmented Reality SDK by independent gaming developer Sahar Fikouhi reveals 3D objects hovering above an iPad's screen when scanning it with an iPhone's camera.

Developers, however, are already moving beyond AR with newer SDKs aimed at pioneering new markets for MEMS-enabled motion-processing algorithms.

For instance, motion processing IP developer, Movea SA showed the industry's first motion processing IP cores designed exclusively for mobile devices at the MWC. Movea's MotionCore family consists of SmartMotion algorithms married to microchip accelerators that fuse the sensor data from the MEMS sensors in smartphones and tablets (namely, accelerometers to sense tilt, gyroscopes to sense rotation, magnetometers to sense location, and altimeters to sense height).

Movea's SmartMotion algorithms already enable those smart TV remote controls that allow point-and-click Internet surfing, but its MotionCore IP will enable a new breed of motion-processing-unit similar to graphics-processing-units, potentially pioneering a whole new category of co-processor dedicated to motion algorithms for AR, activity monitoring, and gesture-based controllers.

Likewise, the world's foremost MEMS chip maker, STMicroelectronics, announced its own sensor-fusion suite at MWC--called SiRFusion--which it demoed in its booth running on a mobile device by Cambridge Silicon Radio. Using SiRFusion, CSR's inertial navigation unit was able to track the position and orientation of users inside buildings, for location-based services that work indoors. ST and CSR are currently hawking their motion-processing technologies to smartphone and tablet vendors for applications like museum auto-tours which use AR to explain exhibits.

Freescale Semiconductor was also showcasing how its i.MX processors and Xtrinsic MEMS sensors work with its free eCompass sensor-fusion software. At MWC Freescale demonstrated AR applications including a Virtual Nurse (who coached patients on drug dosage when aimed at their pill bottles), a Virtual Teardown (that revealed the innards of an i.MX-based tablet) and a Virtual Interactive Showroom (which displayed hidden product information).