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When Will Self-Driving Cars Become a Reality?

June 13th, 2018

By Stephen Breit, Senior Director, MEMS Business, Coventor, a Lam Research Company

Self-driving cars have been all the rage in both the trade and popular press in recent years. I prefer the term “autonomous vehicles,” which more broadly captures the possibilities, encompassing not only small passenger vehicles but mass transit and industrial vehicles as well. Depending on who’s talking, we will all be riding in fully autonomous vehicles in five to 25 years.

The five-year estimates come from startups eager to raise venture capital while the 25-year estimates stem from Tier 1 automotive suppliers who tend to be more conservative in outlook. Regardless of the timeframe, a multitude of investors – national governments, venture capitalists and companies – are dedicating significant capital and effort to make autonomous vehicles a reality.

I must admit that I did not fully grasp the enthusiasm for self-driving cars until last year. First, I’ve always enjoyed driving, unless I’m in stop-and-go traffic, so I couldn’t imagine relinquishing the task. Second, I’ve deliberately arranged my life to spend minimal time in my car. However, traffic has become much heavier in my metropolitan area (Boston), and I know that many people in cities around the world face longer commutes and waste more time in gridlock.

What is the solution to this problem that is only getting worse? I had an epiphany while walking through Shinigawa Station in Tokyo, one of the busiest train stations in the world. Dense streams of people crisscrossed the station on their individual paths, managing to avoid collisions without the aid of traffic controls. Evidently, humans have an innate collision-avoidance ability that makes traffic controls for pedestrian crowds unnecessary. If autonomous vehicles could achieve the same excellence in collision-avoidance, we could potentially reduce or eliminate traffic controls for vehicular traffic, providing a huge gain in transportation efficiency and relief from gridlock.

Sensors as core building blocks

New and improved sensors, many based on micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology, are key to achieving this vision. While MEMS inertial sensors (such as accelerometers and gyros) are already integral to the core safety systems in conventional vehicles, they are also essential to improved self-navigation in autonomous vehicles.

The challenge for MEMS suppliers is to deliver inertial sensors that meet the requirements for self-navigation systems, which are different and more demanding than for safety systems.

Pinpointing a vehicle’s position requires “dead reckoning” based on inertial sensor signals as a supplement to GPS input. Undesirable drift in the inertial sensor signals due to mechanical quadrature, temperature sensitivity and noise can quickly add up to a large error in position that may result in a collision. To meet the more rigorous requirements for autonomous vehicles, suppliers must design MEMS inertial sensors that are substantially more precise and resistant to drift. This requires design software that is both extremely accurate and fast, as well as increasingly precise and reliable manufacturing capabilities.

Other MEMS-based devices, such as micromirrors and micro ultrasound transducers (MUTs), are also promising options for implementing vision and range-finding systems in autonomous vehicles. These sensing systems are needed for building electronic versions of the human collision-avoidance abilities that I witnessed in Shinigawa Station – and it is these systems that autonomous vehicles must emulate.

When will self-driving cars become a reality? Aside from the provocative question that got you to read this far, I don’t have a definitive answer. It will undoubtedly occur in phases, ranging from the driver-augmentation systems available in today’s cars to the full autonomy and ubiquity that will allow reduction of traffic controls in 20 years or more. It is clear that the ultimate goals for autonomous vehicles are highly worthwhile, and that achieving those goals will require better-performing and more diverse MEMS sensors.

MEMS-based sensing systems are essential to autonomous vehicles.

Stephen (Steve) Breit, Ph.D. has been responsible for overseeing development and delivery of Coventor’s industry-leading software tools for MEMS design automation since joining Coventor in 2000. Steve holds numerous patents on software systems and methods for MEMS design automation and virtual fabrication. He holds a Ph.D. in Ocean Engineering from MIT and a B.S. in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering from Webb Institute.
For more information, visit: https://www.coventor.com

MEMS Fabrication: Growth-Enabler or Industry Roadblock?

May 7th, 2018

By D.Sc.(Tech.) Heikki Holmberg, senior development manager technology, Okmetic Oy 

The MEMS industry has huge growth potential. Will MEMS fabrication act as a bottleneck to continued expansion or a critical conduit to achieving that potential? Slow development cycles, multiple fabrication platforms and high cost for small R&D volumes are barriers to rapid development of new products. Understanding the special features of MEMS fabrication — with its many ecosystem options — will help your company to navigate successfully these challenges as you more quickly develop new and unique products.

The sheer diversity and varying requirements of MEMS devices and the one product, one process approach are the root causes of most MEMS fabrication challenges. While a single approach will not suit all companies, forming an ecosystem that leverages different companies’ expertise is one of the best ways to address these challenges. However, knitting together this ecosystem is difficult because having multiple partners in the mix only works if the entire supply chain follows common basic design rules and a common top-level technology development roadmap. Because establishing these commonalities takes time and effort, many large- and medium-sized companies prefer to own their supply chain, regardless of the costs. In contrast, emerging companies that cannot support heavy capital investments in new equipment will inevitably find foundries that have all the equipment in place — as well as a wide variety of MEMS processes — a more attractive option. As you embark on a MEMS fabrication journey, which options should you consider to stay ahead of the pack?

Finding ecosystem partners

Since there are so many different technology choices that make process integration difficult in MEMS fabrication, technology know-how is the key to developing unique products in time. If you are not able to own your supply chain, you must find ecosystem partners whose expertise both matches and complements your technology (Table 1).

Supply Chain Option Option 1 Option 2 Option 3 Option 4 Option 5
Company Expertise Fully owned component supply chain. Outsourced assembly and ASIC design only. Outsourced MEMS-fabrication by pure-play MEMS foundry. Outsourced MEMS-fabrication and MEMS design by MEMS foundry. Purchased ready-made MEMS chips.
MEMS chip fabrication 2 1 3 2 3
MEMS chip design + testing 2 1 1 2 3
ASIC design 2 3 2 1 2
Assembly 2 3 2 2 1
System-level know-how of the component 2 2 2 2 1

Table 1: Ecosystem choices as a function of company expertise. 1=Excellent fit 2=Good fit 3= Ok fit.

You must also understand how your company can add value — either directly to the end-product or to the other partners in the ecosystem. Above all, there must be trust among partners. A lack of mutual trust will lead to inadequate information-sharing and cumulative knowledge-gathering — slowing problem-solving and/or causing excessively long development cycles.

Option 1: Own your supply chain

While few companies can support Option 1 — having the whole supply chain in-house (like Bosch or STMicroelectronics) — the benefits are many: all know-how will be contained within the company, IP is easy to protect, and supply-chain management is simpler. However, this model demands a significant investment in tools and, in the long run, substantial effort and money to remain technologically competitive in each part of the supply chain.

Option 2: Outsource the ASIC

You might opt for a fully owned supply chain — outsourcing only ASIC fabrication and possibly ASIC design and assembly. This option requires significant expertise in MEMS technology, freeing you from the limitations of a fabless operation model as you gain more control of MEMS fabrication processes. It also offers more IP protection than you would have with a foundry.

While the disadvantages of Option 2 are similar to the fully owned supply chain model, you can mitigate them by outsourcing part of the MEMS chip fabrication supply chain or outsourcing some development to wafer supply companies that can handle the customer-designed embedded structures inside the wafer and/or multi-stack wafer packages. Outsourcing will shorten the process flow and reduce the amount of capital required for growth. A third outsourcing option is to farm out especially difficult or incompatible steps, delivering multiple benefits such as access to better materials, including specialized polymers – which are typically more expensive than silicon – and precious metals, such as gold or platinum, which can contaminate equipment during thin-film deposition processes.

Source: Okmetic Oy Source: Okmetic Oy

Options 3-4: Foundry models

While more companies still own the whole supply chain or outsource the ASIC portion of their device than use MEMS foundries, the MEMS foundry solution is still an especially good option for cost-conscious companies. If you cannot afford the substantial investment needed for new tools and/or advanced materials or your product requires rapid scaling-up because of short lifecycles, you should explore foundry solutions. There are two main types: pure-play foundries (Option 3) and a foundry with design services and its own IP (Option 4). Option 3 offers no design services, nor does it provide its own designs. It is an excellent choice for a MEMS design-based company lacking its own MEMS fabrication line. However, if your company lacks in-depth knowledge of MEMS design, Option 4 will give you design support and possibly some IP as well.

Okmetic operators inspect silicon wafers to ensure they meet customer specifications for quality and performance.  Source: Okmetic Oy Okmetic operators inspect silicon wafers to ensure they meet customer specifications for quality and performance.
Source: Okmetic Oy

Option 5: Buy the MEMS

Option 5 is to buy ready-made MEMS chips and use them as the foundation to build your component. This is solid choice if your company is high in the value chain or has system-level expertise.

In the future, MEMS ecosystem players will win by offering both design-library development and a supporting portfolio of MEMS process design kits — just as the IC industry now does. This winning approach will significantly shorten the MEMS product-design cycle – from idea to process development and finished product – and will ultimately change the rules of the game for the MEMS fabrication industry.

About the author

Based in Vantaa, Finland, D.Sc.(Tech.) Heikki Holmberg develops new business opportunities for Okmetic’s high-performance silicon wafers. He also manages Okmetic’s research portfolio, including European Union- and nationally funded research projects.

For more information, visit: https://www.okmetic.com/

AI and MEMS Sensors: A Critical Pairing

April 5th, 2018

By Kaustubh Gandhi, Senior Product Manager, Bosch Sensortec

Source: Bosch Sensortec Source: Bosch Sensortec

Artificial intelligence (AI) is making headlines everywhere, offering a range of capabilities, including location and motion awareness — determining whether a user is sitting, walking, running or sleeping. Behind the scenes, AI is capturing volumes of data. Makers of smartphones and fitness and sports trackers, along with application developers, are all clamoring for this data because it helps them analyze real-world user behavior in depth. Manufacturers gain a competitive edge by tapping this intelligence: Using it to improve user engagement, they increase the perceived value of their devices, potentially reducing customer churn.

How can consumer-product manufacturers tap the built-in capabilities of MEMS inertial sensors — which are already ubiquitous in end-user devices — to make the most of AI?

Machine learning

Product manufacturers can easily build an activity classification engine using commonly available smart sensors and open-source software. Activity trackers, for example, use raw data first collected via the MEMS inertial sensors that are already installed in smartphones, wearables and other consumer products.

With the building blocks in place, consumer-product manufacturers can apply machine learning techniques to classify and analyze this data. There are several possible approaches, ranging from logistic regression to deep learning neural networks.

One well-documented method used for classifying sequences in AI is Support Vector Machines (SVM). Physical activities, whether walking or playing sports, consist of specific sequential repetitive movements that MEMS sensors gather as data. MEMS sensors make good use of this collected data, which can be easily processed into well-structured models that are classifiable with SVMs.

Consumer-product manufacturers have gravitated toward the SVM model since it is easy to use, scale and predict. Using an SVM to set up multiple simultaneous experiments for optimizing classification over diverse, complex real-life datasets is far simpler than with other approaches. An SVM also introduces a wide range of size and performance optimization opportunities for the underlying classifier.

Cost impacts of processing, storage and transmission

In practice, recognizing user activity hinges on accurate live classification of AI data. Therefore, the key to optimizing product cost is to balance transmission, storage and processing costs without compromising classification accuracy.

This is not as simple as it sounds. Storing and processing AI data in the cloud would leave users with a substantial data bill. A WiFi, Bluetooth or 4G module would drive up device costs and require uninterrupted internet access, which is not always possible.

Relegating all AI processing to the main processor would consume significant CPU resources, reducing available processing power. Likewise, storing all AI data on the device would push up storage costs.

Resolving the issues

To resolve these technology conflicts, we need to do four things to marry the capabilities of AI with MEMS sensors.

First, decouple feature processing from the execution of the classification engine to a more powerful external processor. This minimizes the size of the feature processor size while eliminating the need for continuous live data transmission.

Next, reduce storage and processing demands by deploying only the features required for accurate activity recognition. In one example created by UC Irvine Machine Learning Repository (UCI), when an AI model was trained using a dataset of activities with 561 features, it identified user activity with an accuracy of 91.84 percent. However, using just the 19 most determinative features, the model still achieved an impressive accuracy of 85.38 percent. Notably, pre-processing alone could not identify these determinative features. Only sensor fusion enabled the data reliability required for accurate classification.

Third, install low-power MEMS sensors that can incorporate data from multiple sensors (sensor fusion) and enable pre-processing for always-on execution. A low-power or application-specific MEMS sensor hub can slash the number of CPU cycles that the classification engine needs. The onboard software can then directly generate fused sensor outputs at various sensor data rates to support efficient feature processing.

Finally, retrain the model with system-supported data that can accurately identify the user’s activities.

Functional process for activity classification (Source: Bosch Sensortec) Functional process for activity classification (Source: Bosch Sensortec)

Additionally, cutting the data capture rate can reduce the computational and transmission resource requirements to a bare minimum. Typically, a 50 Hz sample rate is adequate for everyday human activities. This may soar, however, to 200 Hz for fast-moving sports. Reducing dynamic data rate selection and processing in this way lowers manufacturing costs while making the product lighter and/or more powerful for the consumer.

High efficiency in processing AI data is key to fulfilling its potential, driving down costs and delivering the most value to consumers. MEMS sensors, in combination with sensor fusion and software partitioning, are critical to driving this efficiency. Operating at very low power, MEMS sensors simplify application development while accurately analyzing motion sensor data.

Combining AI and MEMS sensors into a symbiotic system promises a new world of undreamt-of opportunities for designers and end users.

Based in Reutlingen, Germany, Kaustubh Gandhi is responsible for the product management of Bosch Sensortec’s software. For more information, visit: https://www.bosch-sensortec.com/

This blog post is based on an original article that first ran in EDN. It appears here with the permission of the publisher.

 

What’s Next for Smart Speakers? Smarter Microphones

March 16th, 2018

By Matt Crowley, CEO, Vesper Technologies

Smart speakers and voice assistants are already a big part of everyday life for many of us. Improvement in speech recognition accuracy obtained from advancements in natural language processing, machine learning and cloud computing technologies is driving the success of voice assistants. We’re asking Siri to play music, Alexa to order kitchen supplies and OK, Google for the weather. The world’s largest consumer electronics tradeshow, CES, was monopolized by voice assistants this year.

But what’s behind the smart speakers? Even smarter microphones. There are two different kinds of tiny microphones in our smart devices, including smartphones, smart home products and smart speakers – capacitive and piezoelectric MEMS (microelectro-mechanical systems) microphones. MEMS microphones offer high signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR), low power consumption, good sensitivity, and are available in very small packages that are compatible with surface mount assembly processes, according to EDN Network. Capacitive MEMS microphones have been the industry standard for 50 years, until recently. A new player hit the scene in the last couple of years – the piezoelectric MEMS microphone.

Piezoelectric MEMS microphones are transforming the capabilities of smart speakers by offering better far-field performance, ruggedness and extreme durability over time. In fact, piezoelectric MEMS mics, for example, are natively immune to environmental contaminants such as dust, water, humidity, oil and even beer. Piezoelectric MEMS microphones offer significant power savings over battery-powered smart speakers compared to capacitive-based “always on, always listening” solutions. That means that the microphone is absorbing virtually no power until it’s turned on by a “wake word” such as “Hey Siri.”

Vesper’s piezoelectric MEMS microphones enable smart speakers and other voice-enabled applications Vesper’s piezoelectric MEMS microphones enable smart speakers and other voice-enabled applications

Another crucial advantage of piezoelectric MEMS comes from the inherent linearity of piezoelectric transduction that can withstand extreme sound pressure levels without saturating the microphones. What this means to smart speakers is that the audio quality, particularly the bass response, on the speakers need not be compromised to avoid saturation of microphones in music barge-in scenario. From a consumer perspective, this feature translates to higher wake-word detection accuracy without compromising on audio quality while playing music at loud volume levels. All of these advantages when integrated into microphone arrays lead to improved speech recognition accuracy and consistent long-term performance, a rare combination we think is best achieved with piezoelectric microphones.

These different types of sensors can significantly increase the utility rates of smart speaker products in a household, a major challenge that smart speaker developers are trying to solve. Imagine a smart speaker that can interact and move along with you to teach yoga or an Echo Dot in your bedroom that can seamlessly communicate the temperature and/or humidity level to a thermostat without any user interaction. While motion sensors can help create an emotional bond with the user, environmental sensors on-device can offload some of the communication to the cloud or another IoT hub, thereby reducing the latency and power consumption. Some of these features are currently only limited to highly priced niche products, but one can expect the proliferation of these devices into the mass market in the years to come.

 

Amazon’s smart speakers – such as Echo Dot – are always-listening devices. Amazon’s smart speakers – such as Echo Dot – are always-listening devices.

Amazon’s first-mover advantage resulted in its large market share within the smart speaker segment. Alexa Voice Services’ growing third-party integrations and rapidly evolving ecosystem of connected smart home services indicate a strong foothold for Amazon. Information plays a key role in the race for marketshare in these connected services, and MEMS/sensors are at the forefront of this information-gathering process. Adoption of a wide variety of sensors, including technologies such as piezoelectric MEMS sensors, can provide significant value and competitive advantage in data science.

 

Based in Boston, MA, Matt Crowley is CEO of Vesper Technologies. For more information, visit: www.vespermems.com

This blog post was originally published on the SEMI Blog.

MEMS & Sensors Technical Congress 2017: Knowing Your Unknowns

April 26th, 2017

By Karen Lightman, MEMS & Sensors Industry Group | SEMI

As in life, knowing everything in MEMS and sensors is impossible. Often the best we can do is to “know the unknowns” because articulating what we do not yet understand allows us to seek answers so that we can stay competitive.

MEMS and sensors supply chain members need to know what is “state of the art” in terms of technology, what the competition is doing, and how to identify the best partners in order to increase revenue more quickly. Bridging alliances across the supply chain is truly the only way you’ll get from here to there.

These concepts are integral to MEMS & Sensors Industry Group’s upcoming conference, MEMS & Sensors Technical Congress (MSTC), Working Together to Solve Technical Challenges and Increase Value across the MEMS and Sensors Supply Chain (May 10-11 at Stanford, Calif.). What will you experience at MSTC? You will get to rub elbows with top technologists from both inside and adjacent to the MEMS and sensors industry as they share their expertise on how to address the most common technical challenges to growth. This year Stanford University’s SystemX is hosting MSTC and they will offer a guided tour of their two nanofabs (one of which recently opened, so this is a special treat).

For this year’s MSTC, we’ve lined up some impressive keynote speakers.

Chris Ré, assistant professor, Department of Computer Science, Stanford University, will present “Snorkel: Ameliorating the Labeling Bottleneck in Machine Learning.” With machine learning an indispensable part of voice-recognition, image search, natural language processing and other applications, Chris will explore new techniques for circumventing the most common bottleneck in machine learning — creating training sets. I think everyone will welcome the opportunity to learn how to snorkel our way through a smarter planet.

Scott Borg, director and chief economist of U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit will present “Understanding Sensor and MEMS Security from an Economic Standpoint.” Scott’s keynote will address the value and opportunity cost of MEMS and sensors devices with respect to cyber attacks, focusing on the value as opposed to the cost. His premise is that “approaches that are purely technical are especially likely to waste resources.” Intriguing, no?

MSTC 2017 will also include breakout sessions that will give attendees an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and tackle some of the most challenging technical issues still affecting both the front-end, middle and back-end of manufacturing. These “known unknown” topics include:

  1. Technology Transfer for Dummies: How to Get to a Stable High-yielding Process – chaired by Mary Ann Maher, Ph.D., president and founder, softMEMS
  2. Back-end Challenges of MEMS and Sensors (Packaging, Testing, & Reliability) – chaired by Mike Mignardi, manager, technology development, Texas Instruments
  3. Integration Opportunities (Technological & Business Considerations) – chaired by Peter Himes, general manager, SITRI Innovations and SITRI Ventures
  4. Emerging MEMS, Sensors, and Systems Incorporating Them – led by Nicole Kerness, vice president, Sensor Design and Technology, Kionix
  5. Piezoelectric and other Emerging Materials for MEMS and Sensor Applications – chaired by Dave Horsley, PhD., Chirp Microsystems

MSTC 2017 has also compiled an impressive lineup of speakers who will address issues such as sensor integration and its benefits (STMicroelectronics Senior Manager, MEMS Product Marketing Jay Esfandyari,). Coventor Vice President of Engineering Stephen Breit, will discuss enabling “easy customization” of MEMS sensors for integrated, high-value solutions. Silicon Microgravity Executive Chairman Paul Vickery will describe new technology that allows us to measure Earth’s gravitational field to an astounding resolution of 1 ppb. Plasma-Therm Business Development Manager Yanick Pilloux will offer insights into the emerging process of plasma dicing technology.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the lack of ingenuity in new power sources, so I am especially looking forward to hearing Excelitas Technologies Applications Engineer Prometeusz Jasinski, Applications Engineer present on a lens-less “SMD thermopile solution for dealing with people motion-detection in battery operated devices.” I’m also a big believer in robotics (because I really need a robotic maid!) and am excited that Tohoku University Professor Shuji Tanaka will share the latest in smart MEMS and sensors for robotic applications. We’ll also include two more presentations on what I like to call “new science”: microspectrometry for new materials analysis by Si-Ware Systems Executive Vice President, W/W Marketing &Business Development Scott Smyser, as well as development of a high-performance micromirror array using the MEMS ecosystem by AMFitzgerald Associate Caroline White.

At MSTC, attendees can further navigate the “known unknowns” by tuning into a panel experts who will discuss how academic research innovations and industrial technological advancements will not only drive current trends but will also dictate the longer term market landscape for systems incorporating MEMS and sensor devices. Our experts include moderator Allyson Hartzell, managing engineer, Veryst Engineering, and panelists: Sanjay Bhandari, Ph.D., CTO and senior vice president, mCube Inc.; Uma Krishnamoorthy, Bosch; and Professors Debbie Senesky and Jon Fan, both of Stanford University.

In this exciting yet challenging era of MEMS and sensors-based applications, MEMS & Sensors Technical Congress (MSTC) offers a technically focused forum on staying ahead of those unknowns. For more information, visit: http://www.semi.org/en/node/116216.

Sentimental Feelings – Looking Back and Forward to MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress

October 21st, 2016

By Karen Lightman, Executive Director, MEMS & Sensors Industry Group

I’m feeling sentimental as I prepare with the MEMS & Sensors Industry Group (MSIG) team for our annual MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress. Maybe it’s because this will be the last Executive Congress before MSIG becomes a strategic association partner of SEMI (here’s the announcement in case you missed it). I remember the first time we hosted the Congress in Pittsburgh. We combined it with our technical conference, then called “METRIC”, for a three-day extravaganza of MEMS. I’ll never forget the looks on everyone’s faces when a speaker (from DARPA) talked about the battlefield of the future and many in the audience were shocked by a description of the use of drones and wearable devices to monitor soldier health. Now both of these technologies are commonplace.

Maybe I’m reminiscing because this year we’re going back to one of my favorite places to host the event, at the JW Marriott Camelback in Scottsdale, AZ. The first time we hosted there was in in 2006 and I fondly remember the closing reception at Mummy Mountain for the biggest rack of ribs I’d ever seen on a single plate (with a side of ½ a chicken).

Whatever the reason, I know that I look forward to the Executive Congress every year because it gives me an opportunity to connect with leaders in and around the MEMS and sensors industry. I remember at the Congress in 2007 just after the iPhone was released and Philippe Kahn of Fullpower said the iPhone was an “elegant brick” – he later went on to invent the first camera in a mobile phone that revolutionized its adoption and helped change the way we use our mobile devices. We had no idea back then what was going to happen with the use of MEMS and sensors in the iPhone. It’s thrilling to think we had one of the first glimpses of it.

I remember when Jérémie Bouchaud presented a teardown of the Apple iPhone in 2012 – with a big reveal of who was (and wasn’t) inside. I remember being so excited to be among the first to know. That is often the case with the Executive Congress, we’ll hear from a speaker and then years later, it will be on the front page of the NYTimes or become as commonplace as a wearable on my wrist or a drone in the sky.

That’s why I’m excited that at this year’s Executive Congress we’ll have several speakers talking about the next revolution of MEMS microphones (Paul Beckman, DSP Concepts), RF MEMS (Dan Hyman of XCOM Wireless) and hear from our opening keynote on how this all will work in the Internet of Things (IoT),(Cameron Coursey, AT&T VP of Product Development for IoT Solution). Coursey’s keynote will focus on the Future of Sensors and MEMS in the IoT and will talk about “new licensed low-power wide-area cellular technologies, standard radio module configurations, embedded SIMs, virtualized networks, light-weight protocols for device management, cloud-based data storage with simple tools to manipulate data, and multi-layered security solutions that wrap data in a protective shell. Some use cases include asset monitoring, wearables, connected cars, and smart cities.” Coursey will bring these issues to light from a carrier’s perspective and share his suggestions of what the MEMS and sensors industry needs to do to prepare for this exciting future.

Our other keynote is Phillip Rayer, General Manager, Local Motors. Rayer’s keynote is entitled The 3D-Printed Autonomous Car: How Sensor Technology, Micro Manufacturing and Open Innovation is the Future of the Self-Driving Vehicle. When I read his abstract I feel as though I am being transported to Willy Wonka’s factory – it’s so fantastical – but this time, it’s really true (and not fantasy). Imagine a world where autonomous vehicles are 3D printed on demand, enabling a smart planet with no emissions, improved efficiency and improved safety. I am also hoping that Rayer will bring along a vehicle for us to ogle (and maybe test drive…??).

For those of you who’ve been to the Executive Congress before, you know we like to always mix things up a bit, to keep it fresh and keep it on the cutting edge of technology and innovation. Don’t worry – we’ve still kept the Technology Showcase (and it’s going to be amazing, yet again). But this year there is so much content that we’ve created two tracks of content on the first day to appeal to our audience’s appetite for MEMS and sensors “on the cusp of commercialization” (12-18 months to market) as well as those that are further out on the path to commercialization and have the potential for trillions of MEMS and sensors. For the latter, I am talking about TSensors®, the initiative launched by Janusz Bryzek. TSensors is a sensor-based initiative to focus on a future world with food, medical care, clean energy and a clean environment for all. As Bryzek likes to say “the world’s biggest problems represent the world’s biggest opportunities.” The track at the Congress will feature speakers who will discuss future technology solutions and you can learn more by reading the TSensors Vision Background document that lays out the TSensors Initiative and the path to a Trillion Sensors.

So yes, I am reminiscing and fondly remembering some of my favorite moments from the Executive Congress’ of years past while I look forward to this year (November 9-11). Have you registered yet? It’s not too late to join us and be a part of the best networking event in the MEMS and sensors industry. I’ll see you there!

Check out the finalists for MEMS & Sensors Technology Showcase at MEMS Executive Congress 2015

October 22nd, 2015

By Karen Lightman, Executive Director, MEMS Industry Group

Back in 2001 when I was a young mother with a baby in diapers, I dreamed of a MEMS-enabled gizmo (perhaps on her diaper?) that would remotely indicate if my daughter was sleeping. She was (and still is) a restless sleeper, and I had many nights where I tip-toed into her room to ensure that she was breathing and yes, indeed, still alive in her crib, only to then accidentally wake her up. Sigh… This was way before WiFi, Bluetooth and MEMS sensors at a price point that would legitimize such a gadget. But I was a sleep-deprived mother who yearned for some peace of mind that my baby was safe and comfortable, so that I could get some rest, too.

Now, 14 years later, there is an even better device for young parents that I couldn’t have imagined – MonBaby Breathing and Rollover Monitor. I’m honored that MonBaby will be participating in the annual crowd-pleasing favorite, MEMS & Sensors Technology Showcase at the 11th annual MEMS Executive Congress US 2015, on November 4. According to the company, with MonBaby, anxious parents can sleep more soundly with the award-winning baby monitor that snaps like a button onto any article of a child’s clothing. MonBaby gives new parents peace of mind and helps them to sleep better knowing that they will receive an audible alarm on their smartphone if the baby rolls onto his or her stomach during sleep or stops breathing. Now the question is, can they make something similar for my teenage daughter who is a now a freshman in high school?

I am looking forward to meeting the inventors of MonBaby, as well as the other four contestants in MEMS & Sensors Technology Showcase, including the uber-cool Bosch eBike Systems. Robert Bosch GmbH promises that with their new eBike, peddling up that big hill may soon get a lot easier, because they are now working with various cycling brands to create electric pedal-assist bikes sold at independent bicycle shops throughout North America. Bosch eBike Systems boosts a cyclist’s human power with electric power at speeds up to 20 mph. The core components that give Bosch eBike Systems cyclists that “tailwind” feeling are a Bosch microprocessor and three sensors that measure a bicyclist’s torque, cadence and wheel speed 1,000 times per second. I can’t wait to try it out for a spin in Napa. (BTW, that is where MEMS Executive Congress is being held!)

Another cool contestant is the Voltafield Magnetic Sensor, which promises to be the new key component for e-compass and motion sensing in wearables. The makers of Voltafield’s ultra-low power miniature magnetic sensor are hoping that their chip’s Anisotropic Magneto-Resistive (AMR) sensor technology — which reduces by 10x the power consumption of a traditional Hall magnetic sensor — is the clear answer. Voltafield integrates 3-axis magnetic sensors and signal conditioning circuits on monolithic silicon together with Wafer Level Chip Scale Package (WLCSP) to form a software programmable 1.1mm x 1.1mm device. Clearly, they hope to revolutionize the wearable world – and honestly, the potential goes way beyond wearables: Everything needs to consume less power these days!

I am also really intrigued by Horse Sense Shoes – which reminds me of a Dr. Doolittle creation enabled by MEMS. Horse Sense Shoes has developed an equestrian wearable that is making understanding horse health possible. They feature non-invasive, Freescale Semiconductor MEMS multi-sensor devices, which are typically accelerometers and pressure sensors that can measure weight variations and motion patterns as informational indicators on the status and health of the horse. Residing under the horse’s hooves, these MEMS sensors can detect joint problems, laminitis or lameness early enough for effective treatment, potentially saving a horse’s life. Again, this has huge implications for all large (and small) animals. Doesn’t the US spend $60B on pet products each year? I am sure there are tons of folks who would spend the money on a wearable for Fido, too.

And last but not least, is Cambridge CMOS Sensors Gas Sensor (the CCS811), which offers a breath of fresh air in a tiny ultra-low power device. This metal oxide gas sensor co-packaged with a micro controller unit delivers a self-contained solution for assessing air quality in indoor environments. Whether embedded in a smartphone or integrated into a standalone device, CCS811 generates alerts to provide intuitive ways to evaluate air quality, opening up new application areas for improved health and wellbeing such as ambient air quality monitoring and breathe analysis in smartphones, tablets, wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This minute device has massive potential for enabling myriad applications that will have a positive impact on our world.

So I hope you’ll join me soon in Napa, CA. for MEMS Executive Congress US November 4-6 to check out these contestants in the Tech Showcase. Only one will be crowned a winner. Whom would you pick?
Check out our website for more information: http://us2015.memscongress.com/mems-sensors-technology-showcase/

Karen’s Hamburg MEMS Roadtrip – A Great Gig

March 31st, 2015

By Karen Lightman, Executive Director, MEMS Industry Group

My favorite kind of business travel is when I can combine it with either a visit with friends/family or a site visit to a MEMS Industry Group (MIG) member company. This month, before I headed to Copenhagen to host MEMS Executive Congress Europe 2015, I had the pleasure of doing both. In the immortal words of the Beatles, I went to Hamburg because I had a gig.

I arrived in Hamburg Germany and took the 40 minute drive north to Itzehoe to visit with Fraunhofer ISIT (Ralf Dudde, Wolfgang Benecke) and XFAB MEMS Foundry (Peter Merz) – both companies are snuggled amongst the beautiful countryside of northern Germany in an industrial park co-located with other high tech companies including MIG members Plan Optik and Maxim Integrated.

xfab-02

We spent much of our time discussing the relationship between Fraunhofer ISIT and XFAB MEMS Foundry and it soon became quite clear to me that it’s symbiotic. The two organizations complement each other in very productive ways. Fraunhofer ISIT focuses on power electronics and energy storage as well as MEMS and NEMS (which is the biggest part of ISIT). Fraunhofer ISIT is also obviously working closely with XFAB and provides parts of their advanced R&D activities – in that more space of the cleanroom is dedicated to R&D than production at the Itzehoe location. Fraunhofer ISIT also has a development partnership with Sensor Dynamics (recently acquired by Maxim) working on micro-speakers, as well as printed electronics. Later in the day I also saw a cool demo by Frauhnofer ISIT of MOEMS – gesture recognition micromirrors. I was really impressed and can safely state that these guys are on the cutting edge of “new MEMS.”

Besides being wowed by the research from Fraunhofer ISIT I also had a chance to catch up with Peter on the amazing hockey-stick growth that XFAB has had with MEMS. In 2013-14 their MEMS growth was a whopping 44%. For them automotive has contributed to this growth and they expect medical health care to grow in the future. Looking forward to the future they see energy harvesting as a growth area. We also spoke of XFAB’s open platform technology examples where sometimes MEMS is integrated with CMOS “when it makes sense.”

You may recall that XFAB made an announcement in 2012 that they were going to make a $50M investment in MEMS. We all know (at least when we are honest with ourselves) that MEMS is not for the faint at heart and can sometimes be tricky, slow, and is often very iterative.

The collaborative model that XFAB is utilizing with its partners like Fraunhofer ISIT is clearly working and is a good role model for the industry. Co-creation and collaboration were themes that I heard time and time again at MEMS Executive Congress Europe 2015 in Copenhagen and the entire focus of MIG’s MEMS Technical Congress in Boston May 6-7. I encourage you to roadtrip with me next to Boston and learn more about the other great models for growth through co-creation and utilizing the MEMS and sensors supply chain.

Wearable Devices and the Search for the Holy Grail at 2015 International CES

January 15th, 2015

By Karen Lightman, Executive Director, MEMS Industry Group

Several years ago, I coined the phrase “MEMS frickin’ everywhere.” I shared my vision for MEMS enabling a smarter and better world. This was before the term Internet of Things (IoT) had taken hold. My catchphrase got me into a bit of trouble with those offended by my use of a modified expletive as well as skeptics of the potential of MEMS.

Today that vision of MEMS everywhere seems passé and so obvious. That’s because the outlook for MEMS and sensors has never looked brighter – this was incredibly apparent to me at the 2015 International CES.

At this year’s CES, in addition to hosting the Sensors Marketplace on the show floor and hosting a booth with several of our member companies, MEMS Industry Group (MIG) hosted its third annual conference at CES. In 2013 we were invited by CEA to host a 1.5 hour conference; in 2014 it doubled to three hours and this year we filled an entire day of content plus a cocktail party. Some might say that MIG is growing as fast as the MEMS and sensors industry it represents!

2015 has already been heralded as the year of the wearable device and MIG chose wearables and the MEMS/sensors supply chain as the theme for our conference. We packed an impressive lineup of featured speakers and panelists. There have been several stories already posted by the press on the conference track as well as our exhibit so I won’t retell the already told. Instead I’d like to share with you my favorite quotes, moments and impressions from the entire show.

What’s my number one? Something that I’ve known for a while but now really believe is the HOLY GRAIL to both the future success of wearables and IoT/Everything: POWER.  Power reduction and management through sensor fusion, power generation through energy harvesting as well as basic battery longevity. It became very clear from conversations at the MIG conference as well as in talking with folks on the show floor that the issue of power is the biggest challenge and opportunity facing us now.

MIG’s recently announced Accelerated Innovation Community (AIC), an open source algorithm library for sensor fusion, is a good first step. AIC can help address the issue of sensor fusion to enable more powerful and power-efficient wearables and IoT/E. It has become clear that as an industry we’ve got to do more to address the issue of sensor fusion as well as power reduction, management and creation.  In order to be successful we need more folks onboard to participate in AIC as well as spread the word to end-users and integrators. Won’t you join our merry band of sensor fusion evangelists?

Favorite quote? It comes from David He, Chief Scientific Officer, Quanttus, when he described his company’s goal to find the “unkiller app” by enabling clinically accurate, contextual and continuous data that can empower people to truly take control of their health and yes, save lives. At our conference, David unveiled Quanttus’ never-seen-before health analytics that mapped the blood pressure of 200 people, which gave the audience a glimpse of the future described by Dr. Eric Topol in his book The Creative Destruction of Medicine. As someone who has been at the mercy of out-of-touch doctors who controlled my cancer treatment/healthcare, I welcome the day when I have a wearable device enabled by MEMS and sensors along with data analytics that gives me smart, useful and actionable data to help me guide and manage my own healthcare, thank you very much.

Lastly, being at CES this year reiterated my love and affection for MIG members. From the members who have been with MIG since its foundation in 2001 like Intel to our newest member, Virtuix (whose President joined MIG only minutes after speaking at MIG’s CES conference), MIG members totally rock. It was a pleasure and a delight to be in their company for one week, even at the world’s most insane tradeshow (because it’s in Vegas, after all).

MIG is a growing industry association in a growing industry. I’m confident that together, we can create a world that has MEMS and sensors frickin’ everywhere, but only if we continue to address the remaining challenges to commercialization. Won’t you join us?

Pittsburgh IMAPS Workshop

October 15th, 2014

By Karen Lightman, Executive Director,  MEMS Industry Group

Packaging means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Webster’s dictionary defines package as a “group or a number of things, boxed and offered as a unit.”

For my school-age daughters, packaging means figuring out how to maximize the components of their lunch into these bento-box-like containers I bought at Target in hopes that it would simplify their packaging and assembling process (at low cost and decent performance, mind you). Two months into the school year the packaging appears to be weathering extreme temperatures (cold fridge to hot dishwasher), drop-tests (I am sure you need no explanation here) and what I can only describe as a “cram test” (how many Oreos can you fit inside without the box breaking or my parents noticing).

But if you are in the microelectronics/MEMS industry, when you hear the word packaging your mind goes to the various MEMS packages that can contain a multitude of electrical and mechanical components that are inter-connected to the outside world for devices such as MEMS microphones, airbag accelerometers, gyros, RF MEMS and the list just goes on and on.

I had the pleasure to learn more about the challenges and opportunities affecting MEMS packaging at a recent International Microelectronics Assembly and Packaging Society (IMAPS) workshop held in my hometown of Pittsburgh and at my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Presenters included our host, Gary Fedder, CMU’s Director of the Institute for Complex Engineered Systems (ICES); Maarten de Boer, CMU Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering; Brett Diamond, MEMS Development Manager, Akustica; Erdinc Tatar, CMU Graduate Student; and yours truly.

To say that my presentation was different from the others is a gross understatement – I talked about the potential for MEMS and sensors in the expanding world of Internet of Things (IoT) as well as an overview of MEMS/sensors standardization and the proactive role that MEMS Industry Group (MIG) and my partners/members/colleagues are playing in addressing the remaining challenges to commercialization. You can access my presentation on the MIG resource library webpage (no password required).

As the others’ presentations are not posted (at least to my knowledge) I figure I’d give you a quick synopsis of what I learned and heard. Gary basically gave an overview about how amazing and fantastic CMU’s engineering, robotics and computer science departments are and that CMU is now partnering and working with universities and centers around the globe. Literally. They even have two programs going on in China.

Maarten’s presentation on the “Effect of Gas Environment and Materials on Electrical Contact Reliability in Micro- and Nanoswitches” was illuminating as I am somewhat familiar with the work that GE Global Research is doing on RF MEMS switches and am aware of the incredible market potential for this area (I wrote a featured blog on this topic for GE’s “Edison’s Desk” earlier this year). Maarten and his colleagues at CMU are taking this a bit further, by looking into different materials and applications at the nano scale.

Brett’s presentation on “Challenges in the Design, Manufacturing, and Usage of MEMS Microphones” was really impressive as it gave a very in-depth view of the true challenges of packaging a device that by design needs to be open to the environment. No small task and it was equally exciting to hear Brett hint at the future applications and integrations with their MEMS mic’s (I will not repeat them here at the risk of disclosing something I shouldn’t). But let’s just say that the market applications for MEMS microphones are just at the beginning – the potential is really big.

Erdinc’s presentation on “Environmental and Packaging Effects on High-Performance Gyroscopes” revealed why so many engineers love their work in the lab – as they are able to tinker and explore with new materials and processes. It’s another reason why I love my work in MEMS/sensors – because there is still an opportunity for “new science.”

MIG helped sponsor the event by providing snacks (including some great chocolate cookie/pie things that melted in my mouth) for the attendees to enjoy while attending the workshop and to facilitate networking. What I learned at the workshop confirmed what I suspected before – packaging is in the eye of the beholder – and at the end of the day what really matters is that the package is at a cost that is reflective of its application and performance expectations.  Therefore, it’s important to communicate those expectations from both the user and supplier’s perspectives.

Packaging means a lot of different things and if done well it can mean the difference between success and failure. Or in my daughters’ case, deciding on how many Oreos to fit into the package before it fails and Mom finds out.

To access Karen’s IMAPS presentation, click here.

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