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© dimitry romanchuck dreamstime.com Components | October 24, 2012

A fully configurable Analog front-end technology

Renesas Electronics markets Smart Analog, a technology innovation it claims will have a radical effect on the way engineers implement sensors in embedded designs.
Modern sensor devices are complex systems that require tuning of circuitry to convert the analog signals produced by the sensor itself into a signal appropriate for a microcontroller’s (MCU) analog-to-digital converter (ADC) subsystem.

This iterative tuning process is time-consuming, adversely affecting time-to-market for most projects. The analog front end (AFE), an essential system building block to a sensor circuit, amplifies and/or filters sensor signals that are often weak, or its electrical configurations differ from the one used by the MCU. The AFE that performs this vital bridging function is often difficult to simulate and must be adjusted because of specific component behavior, board layout, and nearby noise sources.

In many cases, engineers must use a trial-and-error method to calibrate the right analog circuit design.

Renesas is leveraging their technology expertise in both microcontrollers and analog ICs to develop Smart Analog, an ingenious yet simple way for embedded designers to configure their analog circuits speeding time-to-market, while leveraging the MCU to automate sensor trimming and correct for long-term drift resulting in a more intelligent sensor.

Key Features of the Smart Analog:
  • Configurable amplifier circuits that are adaptable to hundreds of sensor applications - The Smart Analog technology implements a range of AFE topologies designed to be easily programmed to support countless types of sensors with a single device. The technology uses a set of configurable amplifier circuits which can be tailored using an intelligent and intuitive software GUI. This configurability enables the engineer to adjust for sensor, board, noise and other characteristics without board-level experimentation. As Smart Analog is field programmable, the circuit characteristics can be modified for sensor drift after equipment is installed, therefore reducing service and maintenance costs for system vendors. With Smart Analog technology, sensors such as accelerometers, flow, ultrasonic distance, gas/chemical, or even human body sensors can be easily tuned to meet the system requirements for a wide range of industrial, commercial and medical applications.
  • Low-power, Small Footprint Hardware Platform - Smart Analog technology replaces the discrete components that typically measure and regulate sensor data, into a single semiconductor package. Discrete component count can be reduced by as much as a factor of ten, allowing for a much smaller overall footprint. Additionally, the power-on/off feature of each block of Smart Analog subsystem yields significant savings in power consumption, in some cases as much as 20 percent.
  • Reduced Development Time and Cost - You no longer need to be an analog expert to design your AFE. Engineers will be able to get their development projects up and running quickly and easily with the powerful GUI-based sensor configuration software tool that enables “on the fly” configuration and simulation of the analog front-end, by allowing the designer to easily change gain values or do offset tuning. This greatly simplifies sensor calibration and debugging and can reduce the overall design lead time between 3 to 8 months significantly lowering development costs.

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