Market Insight

Audience targets the booming sensor hub market with the acquisition of Sensor Platforms Inc

July 08, 2014

Tom Hackenberg Tom Hackenberg Principal Analyst, Embedded Processors

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“Audience made its name in audio processing with customers including ZTE, Huawei, Samsung and Lenovo. The company announced its expansion into ‘multisensory’ sensor hubs at MWC 2014 (eS703/705 and the MQ100 handle audio and motion sensors) and the timeline fits well with its current acquisition.

"Always on" capabilities, whether for motion sensors or microphones, is a major trend in sensors now.  Low power sensor processors are an essential enabler for this trend and Audience is targeting this space with its VoiceQ and MotionQ technologies.  The sensor hub market is booming, driven by handsets and tablets today but in near future by wearables also.

 

Sensor hub units in handsets and tablets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In many cases the hardware supplier needs to partner with a specialized sensor processing company. STMicroelectronics with Movea for the MCU based sensor hub used in Samsung’s GS5 for instance, Nvidia with Sensor Platforms Inc. etc.

Audience has its own DSP based processing platform, but no historical motion sensor fusion expertise. Audience acquired Sensor Platforms Inc. for this reason.

Audience acquires SPI to secure access

For Audience, acquisition is the way to secure access to this expertise. Selling software and algorithms is a difficult business. M&A is perfect exit strategy for Sensor Platforms Inc. and $41 million is a respectable valuation.  Similarly Xsens was bought by Fairchild Semiconductor.

There are only a handful of dedicated sensor processing companies remaining and IHS believes this is the start of an acquisition trend

Audience is the first supplier producing a discrete application specific DSP based sensor hub. Qualcomm has a DSP based sensor hub integrated in its Snapdragon 400, 600 and 800 processors.

DSP is a good solution for audio processing but may be overkill for typical motion processing tasks that do not need high frequency real-time processing capabilities.”

Background

A sensor hub is an ultra-low-power processor which performs signal processing tasks for sensors while the power-hungry Application Processor is asleep.

A sensor hub consists of low power processing hardware, e.g., an MCU, programmable logic, DSP or application processor subsystem, and Sensor fusion and calibration software, which is not trivial due to practical and technical reasons.

Refer to “Motion sensors in handsets and tablets” report 2014

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