16. Radar sensor solutions for more personalized, yet anonymous living experiences
Now that the days are getting shorter again, the nights longer and the temperatures colder, people like to retreat to their own four walls. It's cozy, warm and safe there. Smart technologies can help make it more energy-efficient, intuitive and individual as well, adapting to the needs of the occupants - all automatically. What does it take? First of all, smart sensors. In this episode, we talk about IoT sensor solutions for smart homes - in particular, radar sensors, as they offer unique features for smart home devices.
If you’d like to learn more about radar sensors, please visit www.infineon.com/radar.
Guest: Bernd Hettich, Product Marketing Manager, Infineon
Date of publication: 01 December 2022
The potential of the Internet of Things is well known. But how do we actually implement it? How can people and companies benefit from it? In this podcast, we meet experts from infineon, partners and customers who tell us how it can work and what it takes to Make IoT work. My name is Thomas Reinhardt, I am your host, and I am excited to have this great opportunity sharing this podcast with all of you.
Now that the days are getting shorter again, the nights longer and the temperatures colder, people like to retreat to their own four walls. It's cozy, warm and safe there. And smart technologies can help make it also energy-efficient and adapt to the needs of the occupants - all automatically. What does it take? First of all, smart sensors. Therefore I am happy to have Bernd Hettich as a guest today. Bernd is Product Marketing Manager at Infineon and we will talk about IoT sensor solutions for smart homes. Welcome to the show, Bernd!
Hi Thomas. Thanks for inviting me. It is a pleasure to be here today.
Sensors, as mentioned at the beginning, mark the "starting point" of every IoT system and record data from the environment of a connected device. However, there are many different types of sensors. Could you please help us understanding the different types a bit better?
That’s right. Actually, we at Infineon have the XENSIV™ sensor family. The goal behind these products is to give things human senses. So we are inspired by human nature to provide intuitive sensing solutions to electronics and more.
For example we have ears to hear and therefore we give things ears with MEMS microphones which are the ones with the highest SNR in the market for best audio quality.
There is also the nose – we can smell things. We have for example a CO2 sensor which with you can sense the CO2 level by devices in a room and you can link the the CO2 level in a closed room to infection risks like it was the case with COVID-19. This increases the health.
Then, with our fingers, we can feel pressure. So why not giving things the ability to feel changes in pressure with pressure sensors. When you have an intrusion alarm functionality, for example in your speaker, it can detect even small air pressure changes, e.g. if a window or door breaks. So it can give you an alarm. You can combine it with a microphone to make it even more robust.
The most important sense is “seeing” with you eyes. Here we have two solutions: One is the Time-of-Flight (ToF) solution, the other is the radar sensor solution. So why not giving devices eyes with these solutions?
That is actually the idea behind our XENSIV™ sensor portfolio.
Giving things human senses - that sounds exciting. Let’s talk about the last thing you just covered. You mentioned two different technologies for “giving things eyes”: 3D image sensors and radar sensors. What is the difference between them and what makes radar particularly special?
Let’s start with the image based sensors – like the Time-of-Flight or ToF sensors. They provide an image of their surroundings – of course the resolution of such image is always depending on the number of pixels such a sensor has. But what you get here is also a clear depth information, a distance information of how far a thing in the surrounding is away. You can compare it to the - let’s say - navigation system of a bat: You may know that bats are sending out ultrasonic pulses to map their surrounding to not collide with their environment. Kind of similar is the ToF sensor: you get a clear idea of your surrounding what is a really nice feature. But, since they give an image, people are recognizable. This can be a really good thing when you use it for features like face unlocking features, that you maybe know of your mobile phone. But this also means that personal data is generated here.
This brings me to the radar sensor: Radar works differently since radar provides anonymous data, because no images are generated. A signal generated by you and by me looks completely the same. Radar works in a way that it generates a high frequency signal – in our case 24GHz or 60GHz – and sends this signal out to the environment and if there are persons moving around the signal gets modulated. And this modulated signal – or let’s call it echo – is again received by the sensor and then the sensor compares the signal which was send out to the signal which it received and the difference gives you all the information. From this you can e.g. retrieve the distance from a target, determine the direction of a moving object, speed of an object, distance and, depending on the antenna configuration, even the position of a moving object. Still, radar sensing is completely anonymous and therefore not only recommended in safety-critical areas, but especially suitable in private environments like your home, the living room, bedroom, or even bathroom, where you feel much more comfortable if your smart home devices get the sense of “seeing” with an anonymous sensor instead of using cameras - but still you have all the functionalities.
Absolutely. You talked about homes now. But we mostly hear about radar in connection with cars: speed checks via radar measurement, for example. But what are other applications, especially in smart homes?
You are right. Radar sensing is quite established for years or decades in the automotive segment or traffic monitoring. But we are now also going into the consumer market with – as you said – smart home IoT devices. What is getting more and more important is the detection of motion and presence of humans. But also the non-presence or vacancy detection. Meaning, are people still around in certain areas or rooms or not. And even where are they exactly, and maybe how many. This provides huge opportunities w.r.t. increasing user experience, comfort and energy efficiency in many applications. Let me give you an example: Lighting is quite obvious. Some lighting modules are already triggered by basic motion sensors. Here radar can help a lot to really detect the presence, not only the movement. If you are sitting at the table for dinner, or sitting on the couch to read and not moving really much, radar helps to keep the lights on. While when you go out, the lights turn off. So there is no longer the need to switching lights on/off as the home perceives you as a present person and turns the lights on and off automatically.
Other examples could be monitors or televisions. We are integrated into the Samsung Frame TV. It is an energy efficiency feature as the TV checks if a person is still there, and if no person is present for a certain amount of time, that can be set, the TV turns off.
But also beyond this you can implement features like child protection. Here the TV checks the distance to the nearest person and if it recognizes that there is a person or a child with less than one meter in front of the TV - which can in some cases be really big what is not really healthy - the TV gives a signal that it recommends to increase the distance otherwise it will reduce the brightness or turn off.
Another feature is that the TV can follow my position in the room or see, where I am sitting on the couch, an adjust the sound accordingly so that I am always sitting in the center and have best audio quality. It can even follow you when you are moving or doing things like audio beamforming based on the position of the user.
And you can do even more: Think of smart air conditioning systems that turns on when you enter the room and controls the air blades based on your position that you do not get the airflow directly in your neck or your face but with the aircon still on.
With the growth of smart devices that are having displays - like thermostats or home appliances like stoves, refrigerators etc. - you have the fact that for 99 percent of the time you do not need them. But you want them to be immediately on when you need them. With radar it is possible that they are only on when a person is near them. Otherwise they are turned off to save energy.
The story can be continued as there are many applications inside your home that could profit from a radar sensor.
That's already a lot of examples in different areas of our lives. What are the advantages for the end user? You've already touched some of them and you also mentioned energy efficiency. What else is there to consider?
Well, with saving energy comes saving money, right? Especially in those times with currently increasing energy costs it gets even more important. I think I indicated it already: it is not only about saving energy and money, it is also about the convenience or the user experience that you can enable with radar sensors. The home can interact with you and always provides what you currently need. If the lights should turn on, they turn on. If you look on the thermostat, the thermostat display turns automatically on, and you do not longer have to manually turn it on as they will do it automatically. This is a great experience one we have this in our future smart homes.
One topic I did not touch up on yet is the topic of smart health in homes. With radar you can detect vital signs of people like heart rate or respiration rate. When you have it for example on top of your bed it is possible to track the live status. It already exists in hospitals but why not also at home for elderly people? And even more is possible for example in terms of security. We have radar devices that can detect where you are and if you fall down. For elderly people it can be dangerous if they fall down and can not get up to call for help. Here it can be really important to have a radar sensor that recognizes that and can send an information to relatives or even set an emergency call. This brings a lot of safety for the future.
So, for consumers, these are definitely exciting advantages. But – changing the perspective - I can imagine that it is not entirely trivial for manufacturers to design such devices. How can we at Infineon help here?
You are right. I think you see, radar is really powerful with all these use cases that are possible. But you need to enable that power. Designing really smart IoT devices with radar contains some challenges, as you want them to work robust and reliable. So it is not easy but actually doable.
At the heart of every IoT solution, you find microelectronics: sensors, actuators, microcontrollers (MCUs), communication modules, and security components. To build a successful IoT device, however, it is not enough to have access to the physical modules – the pure hardware. It must be integrated into a network quickly and efficiently, a large amount of data has to be processed in an intelligent way, and a stable and secure connection to the cloud has to be established. And you have to be able to understand the information you get, like what does the heart rate mean that you got, or the respiration rate that you got.
Infineon is addressing such challenges by offering radar demo boards and development kits as well as ready-to-deploy solutions based on Radar Reference Designs as well as the XENSIV™ connected sensor kit, a prototyping platform for simplifying and accelerating the development of new applications and innovative use cases. Customers who want to quickly design and deploy IoT solutions can access Infineon’s all-in-one development ecosystem with comprehensive sensor libraries and application code examples and algorithms and so on for sensor and connectivity use cases. For example we offer our Radar Development Kit within the Infineon Developer Center to work with our radar boards, but also our ModusToolbox to work with the Connected Sensor Kit which supports multiple sensors. Beyond that, help can be found on the Infineon community page as well as other software, libraries and examples on pages such as github or hackster. There is already a lot and Infineon is further developing this. Additionally, we have a worldwide broad partner ecosystem who are working with our chips to create modules, write software and help customers on their system integration and the certification at the end of line testing. And last but not least, of course we have absolute IoT experts at Infineon who support with deep know-how and system understanding.
Thank you for the overview. Still not an easy task, but with the right support and easy-to-integrate products and solutions, so many great, exciting devices and use cases are conceivable. This already brings me directly to my last question. We always let our guests take a look into the crystal ball. Hence my question to you: What exciting things are in store for us? What new applications can we look forward to?
I wish I would have a real crystal ball. But let me give you my personal opinion: I already touched it earlier. For me one of the growing topics it the field of remote vital signs monitoring that enables applications to monitor the heart rate and breathing rate, ror example. One of our customers and actually partner called “Sleepiz” uses our chip to do track the heart rate and respiration rate while you are sleeping. They analyze the data and with their medical know-how they can give you information on your sleep quality and - much more relevant - discover sleep disorders. They have a stand-alone medically certified product for that, but of course our radar solution inside is small in size and the software is transferable, so a similar feature could be directly implemented into other devices as well like a loptop. We sit in front of our laptops many hours a day and when you track your vital signs like heart rate or breathing rage you can get first of a better understanding of your overall health status. But you can also get the information by your laptop to make a pause or to go outside and to get some fresh air. This helps to improve your health.
For this use case of sensing the heart rate and respiration rate remotely without any physical interaction, radar is quite unique and I believe that we will see this topic grow over the next few years in electronics devices. At the moment it is still at an early stage, but besides our partner Sleepiz we already have customers in Asia having such solutions already in the market, for example for elderly care.
Thank you very much, Bernd, for your exciting insights and also the look into the crystal ball. This brings us to the end of this episode.
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