MEMS combo sensors that combine multiple sensing capabilities - accelerometers, gyroscopes, pressure sensors, compasses, etc. - in a single device, with a small footprint, have seen their applications explode. Six-axis inertial measurement units that blend a 3-axis accelerometer and 3-axis gyroscope enable continuous context sensing in smartphones and contribute to the user experience by detecting movement in six axes: X, Y, Z and roll, pitch, yaw.
While high-end smartphones and tablets continue as primary markets for these devices, wearables, gaming, navigation, imaging and virtual reality headsets are rapidly growing.
The main reason for the success of combo sensors is their convenience - OEMs can buy just one device instead of two or three separate sensors - but mobile applications demand ultra-low power consumption to maximize battery life.
Most of the power consumed in a 6-axis combo sensor goes toward powering the so-called 'vibrating mass' gyroscope. Much research has gone into lowering the power requirements of the gyroscope while continuing to reduce drift and increase sensitivity. Now, one supplier of 6-axis accelerometer-gyroscopes claims a dramatic reduction in power consumption with a proprietary technology for reducing gyroscope power that could open the doors to as-yet-unimagined mobile applications.