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STMicroelectronics Unveils MEMS Digital Compass Module

High-performance motion and magnetic-sensing device enhances mobile navigation and enables advanced location-based services
Geneva /

The combination of high-performance motion and magnetic sensing enhances the mobile-user experience in a number of ways. ST’s new module adds forward direction orientation that enables application developers to improve the use of limited  phone/PDA display size for maps by putting the current user position at the bottom of the map with the rest of the display in the forward (‘up ahead’) direction.

ST’s digital compass provides accurate heading information, to indicate the direction in which a person or vehicle is moving, when GPS is not available. It also supports dead-reckoning applications, including pedestrian navigation in places with no or low GPS signal, such as inside buildings and structures or in mountainous and forested terrain.

Compass modules in handsets open new possibilities for advanced location-based services. With compassing and GPS capabilities, consumers will be able to identify and retrieve information on nearby points of interest, such as restaurants or shops, by simply pointing their mobile devices in the direction of the object concerned.

”As the one-stop MEMS supplier of choice, STMicroelectronics is paving the way to smart sensor modules,” said Benedetto Vigna, Group Vice President and General Manager of the MEMS, Sensors and High Performance Analog Division, STMicroelectronics. “We have accelerometers, gyroscopes, microphones and now, thanks to our cooperation with Honeywell, also magnetic sensors. We are ushering in an era of integrated sensing capabilities.”

The new module leverages ST’s market-proven manufacturing technology and robust design that ST has already successfully applied to more than 600 million accelerometers sold into the market. High-precision sensing couples with smart embedded features, including wake-up/power-down function and 6D recognition, which signals if the device is up or down along all three axes (x,y,z). The device has a linear acceleration full-scale of ±2/±4/±8g and a magnetic field full-scale from ±1.3 up to ±8 gauss(2), both fully selectable by the user.

The magnetic sensing element that measures the strength and direction of the Earth’s magnetic field and determines the heading relative to magnetic north is based on Honeywell’s Anisotropic Magneto-Resistive (AMR) technology.  This technology combines best-in-class accuracy in compass calculations with low power consumption, which is crucial in battery-hungry portable devices. 

The AMR technology provides the same sensitivity on the z axis as it does on the x and y axes, eliminating the need for flux concentrators used in Hall-effect type sensors that can shift the sensor offset after it has been magnetized. This market-unique three-axis sensing approach reduces measurement errors in ultra-low magnetic field strength environments, such as in metal buildings, automobiles, or in higher latitudes like Canada or Northern Europe.

Moreover, Honeywell’s magnetic sensor design includes a built-in offset cancellation circuit to minimize the need for calibration, and patented set/reset straps that de-gauss, or de-magnetize, the sensor for each measurement to improve accuracy.

According to iSuppli, the market for MEMS digital compasses for use in mobile phone applications alone will grow from 8 million units in 2008 to 540 million units in 2013 – a CAGR of 129%. During the same time period, revenues for these components will grow at a CAGR of 110%, from $8 million to $325 million.

ST’s LSM303DLH digital compass module fits in an eco-friendly package of 5x5x1 mm and it is software- and register-compatible with ST’s three-axis digital accelerometer family (LIS331DLH/M/F). Samples are available and the device is ready for mass production. Unit pricing is $2.5 for volumes in the range of 50,000 pieces.

For further information on ST’s complete MEMS portfolio see www.st.com/mems.

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About STMicroelectronics
STMicroelectronics is a global leader serving customers across the spectrum of electronics applications with innovative semiconductor solutions. ST aims to be the undisputed leader in multimedia convergence and power applications leveraging its vast array of technologies, design expertise and combination of intellectual property portfolio, strategic partnerships and manufacturing strength. In 2009, the Company's net revenues were $8.51 billion. Further information on ST can be found at www.st.com.
Information last updated Jan 2010

1 According to iSuppli (December 2009)

2 Gauss (G) is the unit of measurement of magnetic flux density, or the magnitude of a magnetic field at a given point. The magnetic field magnitude measured at the surface of the Earth is about half a gauss.

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