Why Sensors Are the Next Big Thing

May 16, 2017

Sui Shieh By: Sui Shieh
Vice President and General Manager, Industrial & Healthcare Business Unit, Maxim Integrated

The overall sensor market is poised to grow toward an anticipated $2.5 billion by 2021. Sensors are, clearly, the next big thing in our industry. As sensor technologies continue to become more sophisticated, it’s a good time to look ahead and examine what tomorrow’s sensor-based applications will be able to do.

Many of us have become accustomed to having fast access to a variety of health-related parameters, such as our step count, heart rate, and sleep-cycle details. Maxim is continuing to innovate our sensing solutions in order to enable a healthier world. For us, this means developing technologies geared toward keeping people out of the hospital via:

  • Prevention
  • Early detection
  • Chronic disease monitoring

Early detection is one means to support better outcomes. Through bio-sensing devices, people can be alerted to the first signs of a potential health problem, which can prompt them to visit their doctor. Post-visit, at-home monitoring can help people more effectively manage their conditions. The technologies we are developing today are laying the groundwork for solutions that will someday allow personalized, continuous patient monitoring. For example, our hSensor Platform provides an integrated sensor platform for prototyping solutions that measure pulse/heart rate, blood-oxygen levels, body temperature, and the heart’s electrical activity. Also known as MAXREFDES100#, the platform can reduce the prototype development cycle by up to six months. MAXREFDES117#, our heart-rate and pulse-oximetry reference design, works with the Arduino and ARM® mbed™ platforms, delivering a fast way to test and develop wearable solutions that measure these parameters. And ICs like the MAX30101, an integrated pulse-oximetry and heart-rate monitor module, provide a complete system solution that helps simplify the design-in process for fitness devices and similar wearables.


The MAXREFDES117# reference design includes the MAX30102 with integrated red and IR LEDs for heart-rate and blood-oxygen level detection.

Looking ahead, devices will become smart enough to alert patients when their health is good, needs attention, or requires urgent attention. Developers are exploring techniques and technologies to create wearables that more accurately monitor a variety of health parameters, including blood pressure trending, blood oxygen, sleep apnea/quality, and body hydration.

Comfortable and Accurate Wearable Health Devices

People are generally more apt to use something if it is comfortable and convenient. To that end, Maxim is exploring is how we can integrate monitoring and measurement capabilities into gadgets that people are already using. After all, not everyone wants to wear something around their wrist or even clipped to their belt. So, what if you could track your fitness metrics from your running shoes or a ring? Or how about if your smartphone could accurately measure heart rate or blood glucose?

Discretion, convenience, comfort, and precision/high accuracy will be essential for customer adoption of the next wave of wellness monitoring products. With smartphones, there’s a push to achieve greater accuracy in performing various types of measurements. Miniaturization is also becoming critical. Based on these factors, our aim is not to invent medical science but to miniaturize the technologies that can help advance the science. Here, we strive to support innovations such as ultra-thin medical patches that can provide an unobtrusive method for continuous remote monitoring. Consider the implications if, for example, we’re able to someday perform at-home blood tests and obtain results via a smartphone app.

Maxim is continuing to build on our expertise in sensor solutions for the wellness industry, one of the fastest growing segments. With our know-how in circuit design, optical modeling, and microcontroller algorithms, we’re focused on developing technologies that will help make it easier for design engineers to create impactful wellness wearables.

It’s an absolutely exciting time to be working on technologies that carry the promise of enhancing quality of life.