“With this smart ring I thee monitor”

27-06-2016 |   |  By Paul Whytock

Just how much technology do humans want attached to them as they go about their daily lives? If consumer organisations have their way we homo sapiens could be carrying more electronics than RoboCop.

Why do I mention this? Well, because Bosch Sensortec recently unveiled its tiny range of motion sensors that measure a miniscule 2.5 x 3.0 x 0.95mm, making them the smallest 9-axis motion sensor available and infinitely well suited to integration into smart jewellery like rings and necklaces.

But why on earth would you want to wear a smart ring? We already have laptops, tablets, smart phones, smart watches, and wearable fashion, sport and health technology. Where does a smart ring or necklace fit into our already technology inundated lives?

Advocates will argue that they provide cutting edge technology with extremely low power requirements in a tiny footprint. From what I’ve seen of some smart rings that last statement is not entirely accurate with some of them looking like the wearer has poked their ring finger through the centre of a genetically modified strawberry.

How do they work? The answer is that the majority rely on Bluetooth with some using Near Field Communications (NFC)

A lot of smart rings contain a Bluetooth chip and like many Bluetooth devices smart rings need to be paired with a smart phone to work. Once your phone recognises and pairs with the smart ring the two devices can communicate with each other. Bluetooth makes it possible for smart rings to function as notification devices and also as remote controls for Bluetooth-enabled devices and appliances.

The NFC–based rings mean wearers can link with smart phones or tablets and sharing such as links, contacts, Wi-Fi information and images.

Gesture control is also possible with the right ring containing the right technology and this is where motion sensors come in.

Enter the BMX160s from Bosch. These tiny 9-axis motion sensors are suited to far more applications than smart rings and can be used in smart phones, smart watches, fitness trackers and virtual reality devices.

Compared to smart phones, wearables face much harsher space and power constraints and by combining Bosch Sensortec’s accelerometer, gyroscope and geomagnetic sensor technologies, the BMX160 is able to meet the increasingly stringent low-power requirements with a consumption below 1.5mA.

The BMX160 has an integral power management unit and very low power background application features. This enables the application processor to remain in sleep mode much longer which contributes to extending battery life. The integrated step counter function and the Android compatible significant motion detector only consume 30 microampere (µA) each.

The single-package BMX160 replaces the present mainstream two-component solution, i.e. combination of a 6-axis IMU with a 3-axis geomagnetic sensor. So these sensors will find many more applications than just smart rings which is probably a good thing because there remain many questions as to whether smart rings will really grab consumers.

Personally I think they face a steep climb. Firstly, they are actually quite difficult to build given the consumer desire for a whole host of integral functions. So they are not cheap. Secondly, are they really practical bearing in mind the number of times smart rings would need to be removed for showering, cooking, cleaning the car, if fact doing anything where there is the slightest chance of moisture ingress?

Finally, jewellery like rings is a fashion adornment. The wearer wants to feel that they make them look good, fashionable and sometimes very wealthy. Will putting a genetically modified strawberry-like object on one of your digits really achieve any of that?


By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is European Editor for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over twenty years. Prior to entering journalism he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

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