MEMS Summit – 25yrs of Perspective and Diversity
October 19, 2010 - Palo Alto, CA - At the MEMS Technology Summit held at Stanford University, the event was organized and presented as a 25th anniversary celebration of MEMS. The organizers of the event - the founders of NovaSensor - chose the occasion to review the history, accomplishments and future of the MEMS marketplace and technology. The open discussions of the event were based on “how old are MEMS anyway?”. The 25th anniversary date was set for commemorating the founding of NovaSensor and really of MEMS. A poll was taken by the audience and the birth date of MEMS ranged from the 1950's to early 2000's based on the area of application of the products and the commercialization of the products.
The central theme for the first day was the diversity of products and technologies for the MEMS and sensor marketplace is large. Dr. Kensall Wise of The Univ of Michigan expressed the observation that MEMS and sensor business is a systems business not a components business. They are the integral piece of microsystems which are the basis for the new frontier for electronics. These systems are being referred to as WIMS - Wireless Integrated MicroSystems ( http://www.wimserc.org/). WIMS are typically made of a MEMS or sensor, a micropower IC, a custom form factor appropriate package, wireless, an advance power source and a software/firmware control system to coordinate data and activity in the system and with the external communication. These WIMS are driving the development of automotive and “autonomous” biomedical systems which are targeting “measuring the un-measurable”. As a key difference from pure research, the WIMS and MEMS community are taking an engineering rather than scientific approach to solutions. This direction is based on the concept that one does not have a “technology” unless it is the result of a repeatable manufacturing process.
A topic of multiple discussions by speakers from Analog Devies, Bosch and Invensense was motion sensing. This covers accelerometers, gyros, magnetometers and their applications. Bosch is the current leader in wordwide MEMS sales based on their dominance in the motion market for automotive and gaming applications. These products are used for airbag safety systems, stability control, ride control, and growing numbers of applications in the automotive space
The professional and consumer content capture community (still & video cameras, and camera enabled phones) are also large consumers of these motion products for image stabilization In the consumer space, smart phones (tilt and turn function) and gaming controllers (Nintendo Wii, Wii motion plus, Sony Move, Splitfish Frag FX, etc) are the big users of the technology. The user interface from a couple of buttons and single plane arrow control are no longer sufficient technology for long term immersive application control.
The concept of motion based interaction - control IC, MEMS element(s), and application firmware for the SIP are now the basis for most new UI targeted systems. This is the single largest sector of the MEMS business model, and because of the growth of gaming and content capture & playback devices and the multiple units required for automotive applications.
The last area of discussion was the use of MEMS in optics - both as display technology and as optical path technology. Qualcomm discussed their low power MEMS Mirasol display which is targeted at mobile phones and tablet sized products. The use of MEMS technology allows them to create an ultra-low standby power full color display that does not require any backlight to be seen, and does not wash out in daylight. Optical technology has utilized MEMS for many devices. The Texas Instruments DLP technology is a MEMS chip that has micromirrors for steering light and images. This chip is the main component of Digital Cinema projectors, most conference room, TV projectors and pico-projectors systems and current generation 2D and 3D desktop projection TVs. The other side of the optics is the use of MEMS as diffraction gratings, for spectroscopy and other light processing functions. These have had long term uses in scientific circles, such as the on-board imaging and analysis system used in the satellite for testing for the existence of water on the dark side of the moon and light signature analysis in the film and television industry for capture and broadcast color balancing. As these systems, along with medical uses for optical processing, are becoming more digitally based, the necessity for highly integrated MEMS and sensor front ends to capture the data and transmit it in digital form is on the rise.
The first day of the event was an overview and celebration of the people and technology that have made up the MEMS community for between 25 and 50 years, depending on the actual start of the sector. The common assessment is that the sector is growing, and is becoming an indispensable function in modern automotive, consumer, and professional electronic systems.