OnQ Blog

Behind the sixth sense of smartphones: the Snapdragon processor sensor engine

Apr 24, 2014

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

You just beamed down to an alien planet with Mister Spock. Your smartphone instantly informs you that the air is safe to breathe, while Spock is still struggling with that bulky tricorder dangling from his neck. The hardware and software of the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ processor sensor engine are designed to help make amazing use cases like this more reality and less science-fiction.

You may not realize it, but sensors are already integrated into many of the most common smartphone tasks. The gyroscope is what rotates your display, the proximity sensor turns off the display when it is against your ear, and the ambient light sensor changes your display brightness depending on your surroundings.

Each year more and more sensors are integrated into your phone, enabling more and more use cases. The Samsung GALAXY S1 launched with three sensors and today’s GALAXY S5 has 12! More inputs to juggle and more processes means there is a need for dedicated hardware for these tasks. This is where the Snapdragon sensor engine steps in.

sensor core growth in smartphones

Many of these use cases demand “always on” capabilities which is why power consumption is so important. Take the LG G Pro 2 for example. The KnockOn and Knock-Code features expect the touch sensors to be always on and always ready for input. The Snapdragon sensor engine runs off of the Hexagon DSP which is ideally suited for handling these many sensor inputs while saving battery life.

Software and algorithms are also integral parts of the Snapdragon sensor engine. Sensors provide data, software provides experiences. For example, the most basic activity tracker of a phone is a step counter. If you add more sensors and better algorithms to process that input, the result is a more compelling user experience. The Snapdragon sensor engine supports what is known as course motion classification. This can determine if you are standing, resting, walking, running, driving, or parking. Also, as Sir Edmund Hillary would undoubtedly agree that not all miles are created equal, you can add input from the pressure sensor into the algorithm to know if you are running uphill as well.

Qualcomm Snapdragon processors sensor core

 In the future, you can spare the canary because your phone may include sensors that monitor the CO or CO2 levels in the room. Or if you are allergic, your phone could scan food for traces of peanuts. Whatever the futuristic use case, the Snapdragon sensor engine will likely be there to make it better, faster, and at lower power.

Watch our video to learn more:

If you’d like to read more about sensor use cases and Qualcomm Technologies’ unique solution in Snapdragon processors, check out our webinar on the subject. Or if you feel like you have the next great sensor use case to make that tricorder a reality, enter the Qualcomm Tricorder Xprize.

Opinions expressed in the content posted here are the personal opinions of the original authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Qualcomm Incorporated or its subsidiaries ("Qualcomm"). Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries. The content is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be an endorsement or representation by Qualcomm or any other party. This site may also provide links or references to non-Qualcomm sites and resources. Qualcomm makes no representations, warranties, or other commitments whatsoever about any non-Qualcomm sites or third-party resources that may be referenced, accessible from, or linked to this site.

Adam Kerin

Sr Manager, Marketing

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