There is nothing more magical than seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center at Christmas time. That magic must have worked its way at 30 Rock into the audience of the Seventh Annual Livingston Nanotechnology Conference.
There was definitely something in the air (magic nanoparticles?), because there was an amazing energy of optimism and opportunity as nearly 30 nano- and advanced manufacturing startups presented on their companies to an audience of investors.
On December 7, I had the pleasure/honor/delight of presenting to this esteemed audience (of mainly men, I might add, ehem) on behalf of MEMS Industry Group (MIG). I had a ball and plan to come back every year (and yes, to see that gorgeous tree too).
Scott Livingston was the MC for the day’s event and he did a stellar job of introducing/networking/commenting/digressing/having a good time to promote his investment philosophy of taking back Wall Street and giving it back to the people (the 99% people). Not to get all occupy-Wall Street on you; but Scott has an important message of how the U.S. investment community DOES NOT currently invest and reward advanced manufacturing (yes it will invest in Groupon and Zynga but not real job-creation, wealth generating industries like MEMS, save a few examples like InvenSense).
And the reality is that the U.S. has a competitive advantage in advanced manufacturing in nano and to some extent, micro-technology. The time is now and we can’t afford to blow it.
So that’s where I fit in. I gave a brief introduction to MIG [MEMS Industry Group] and the MEMS market and then Scott and I did a little back and forth interview about the opportunities in MEMS. And he even asked me to list some MEMS startups that I recommend folks check out and invest in (some of you owe me BIG TIME). We also talked about the recent InvenSense IPO.
So what was my main message? I lauded the fact that MEMS is in the mainstream. In other words, I said “MEMS is frickin’ everywhere.” Well, not quite. What I did say, is that the potential is for MEMS is HUGE and that MEMS has the opportunity to be “frickin’ everywhere” and that investors should jump on board the MEMS train and help fund this potential (and make some money, too). MIG members will be able to download the .ppt and if you ask nicely I’ll send you it as well.
You can check out the website to see who also spoke at the conference – it’s an impressive list. Some of my favorite speakers were the ones who spoke on topics relevant to MEMS (not that I have anything against nanoparticles that reflect dirt, mind you).
I was WOWED by Jeff Kraws, CEO of Crystal Research Associates. Kraws is an industry expert in healthcare technologies and had just left the set of CBS for an upcoming episode on 60 Minutes to join the conference. While much of his talk was about U.S. healthcare and healthcare spending, my eyes lit up when I heard him talk about the need for medicine/healthcare to improve quality of life and help people live longer. He talked about the need to utilize technology to help people take “back” their healthcare decisions and improve their own quality of life. Yup and guess what? MEMS will make that happen.
I was also uber-impressed by the presentation by Andreas Schierenbeck, President of Siemens Industry, Building Technology Division. I loved the fact that he mentioned MEMS several times in his talk and he also said he saw a need for “MEMS frickin’ everywhere.”
Schierenbeck described zero net buildings - yes with MEMS inside! He said Siemens is working on buildings that “could work for you” – smart buildings that could sell, use or store energy. He said what's missing is MEMS & integrating them with intelligence - the building is the missing link to a smart grid.
He gave the example of how to “shift” the energy load of not just buildings, but cities and gave the example of the first zero emissions city - Masdar City, Abu Dhabi. He encouraged the room of investors to consider the market potential for energy efficiency – “it is feasible and it makes sense.” His parting words were that if you don't measure it (energy usage), you can't fix the problem, change behavior and save money.
And in my opinion, that means MORE MEMS…yes…frickin’ everywhere.
Karen Lightman is Managing Director of MEMS Industry Group.
I have been watching the MEMs explosion for some time now and frankly wishing that the US would JUMP ON THE BANDWAGON big time. With the proliferation into mobile devices, game devices, exercise devices, (the list goes on and on..) it would seem to me that the major educational institutions would be lining up for grant money and developing courses in both use and design of MEMs. I would love to be able to take/teach a course at the college level it this explosive field. I will have to be patient and keep on looking for the right time/place for this to happen.
Hello - thanks for the comment on MEMS (that's a capital "S" at the end, BTW) and its explosion. I completely agree with your comment on the critical need to connect the industry, academia and US government on this issue! there are some schools that are leaders in MEMS - including UC Berkeley, WIMS at UMichigan, MIT and my alma mater, CMU...but there are also some great programs at community colleges, including University of New Mexico's microtech program - good luck!
Hello and thanks for the comment - I totally agree that we are just at the cusp of what MEMS can enable - it's an exciting future. I hope you'll check out the MEMS TechZone at CES next week - where we'll be showcasing just a handful of some of those amazing applications!
I think the most exciting aspect of MEMS is its lack of product boundaries. It has potential applications in almost any field. The utilization of MEMS technologies in biomedical applications can revolutionize the delivery of medicines and treatment of diseases. For instance, the ability to provide chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments to specific cells of a tumor, eliminating the current whole body treatment.
Yup - exactly - I envision a world where MEMS is frickin' everywhere! the applications are so numerous in so many markets - and now the price points are such that they can become superfluous - so thanks for your comment!
Examples of potential real-world applications can be found by doing a search for "MEMS" in Google Patents. At this point, 28,400 patents come up that include the term, and a quick check of some of the titles show the broad diversity of applications, such as antennas, switches, biosensors, imaging devices, glaucoma implants, etc.
MEMS does not have to kill off another sector to succeed, it can create its own niche. MEMS devices provide a way to 'dongle' all sorts of investment in software applications (ie protected income from software with a little hardware on the side) , and special sensors can provide new markets from nowhere.
Thanks for your comment and yes, you are so right. I especially appreciate your inclusion of the word "investment" in your comment - as that is the critical part - we need the design and software community to INVEST in MEMS and then we'll truly see an explosion in MEMS.
hello and thanks for your comment. I actually think one of the most "important" applications of MEMS is how it will improve Quality of Life - as the technology of MEMS will enable folks to manage their own healthcare, maintain their dignity and improve their well being. A great example of this is the company Proteus Biomedical - that has developed a way to monitor a patient's medicine (as one of the leading causes of poor health is that patients don't keep up on their meds) - you should check it out.
thanks so much for your comment!
@karenlightman & @pixies: there are many healthcare areas where MEMS are already making impact and you can expect this to increase several fold. In preventive care alone where consumers can monitor themselves (like heart rate, blood pressure & glucose levels, etc.) using their handhelds & mobiles, the opportunties are huge, enabled my MEMS of course! In sports medicine and kinesiology, applications of MEMS accelerometers and gyro's are leading to many new discoveries.
Nano-robots scouring your artery are still years away from becoming practical!
FDA approval tends to be too slow and the couterpart regulations & approvals are slightly better outside the US.
My previous article on automobile MEMS is here (from Semicon West where I also met Karen!):
Beyond the examples Karen and MP Divakar point out where MEMS can contribute to better quality of life and healthcare are micro-pumps that can continuously inject medicine and monitor (http://bit.ly/A23NSJ); sensors better able to detech glaucoma (http://bit.ly/hnfwRl); and mini labs on chips useful for diagnosis and detection (http://bit.ly/xgMsKM). The number of applications is rich!
thanks @Divakar and @Markowitz for the added examples - it truly is endless where MEMS is and can be applied to help improve the world -- Quality of Life/medical/bio, smart buildings, smart cities, smart cars...and oh yes smart mobile devices that we can't live without!
Mems has been touted as the next gen technology since about 2 decades now but it has all but come to the foreground. I guess they have still not cracked the magic to make it really small and useful at the same time.
Neo1's observation is quite right: MEMS has been hyped for 20+ years, and has slowly found a niche. In this regard, it is much like the laser. Touted as slicing, dicing, and all around wonder device, it just didn't have all of the applications all at once that were claimed for it. As a weapon (tout, tout) your best bet in killing someone was to hit them repeatedly with the thing, or have them touch the power supply; displays? too expensive... just a trick done with mirrors. Yet little by little, lasers (and solid state lasers) found and expanded their own niche.
Don't mistake my slant: MEMS devices are pretty neat: I used to demonstrate the development of gyros by showing off a bunch of them, starting with a basketball-sized unit and finally one the size of a grape. In my hand, for the finale, I had palmed a MEMS gyro... made for a good show. Will MEMS devices explode this year? Maybe, maybe not. But it will be interesting to see...
Thanks for your comment, though I don't agree with it completely. I think we are on the cusp of MEMS cracking that magic - but it's not going to be one single "killer app" - instead it will be many cracks, opening up many products - MEMS is an enabling technology and as someone earlier commented, it's about how MEMS is evolving....
thanks again for the comment!
I agree with the observation of the parallels with laser development. On the one hand, i agree that mems wil be fricken everywhere, but on the other hand, i also think its taking fricken forever. The apps are clearly there. a viable butane battery alone would be a smash hit, let alone the countless other potential opportunities. The creation of this brave new mems world is obviously difficult, otherwise it would be here already, but it's coming none the less.
@ROckstar - love the added comments and I agree, it's a long road to commercialization but the rewards can be great - Alissa Fitzgerald and I recently wrote a blog on just that subject "Why is MEMS so hard?" - http://www.electroiq.com/articles/stm/2011/09/mems-product-development-why-is-it-so-hard.html - and it will be a focus of the MEMS symposium I am chairing at Sensors Expo Chicago: http://www.sensorsmag.com/sensors-expo/pre-conference-symposia/symposium-1-mems-mainstream-commercialization-and-product-re
@Karen...Since potential applications are clearly there, and the technology seems to have reached a point where widespread commercialization is possible, what do you think are the limiting factors inhibiting an explosion of products?
@Karen, Very informative article. Could you please explain more about "smart buildings that could sell, use or store energy" ? Is it something like buildings will start storing solar energy ? I am not sure how to interpret it.
There's no need for potty mouth here as you scratch your balls, Karen ;-) The first use of profanity I've seen in an EE Times piece and, IMO, a very unprofessional attempt to be viewed as "one of the boys". I'm not a prude, and use language on the street that would make a sailor blush, but EE Times is not the venue for such language - save it for the bars and shipping dock.
That aside, you might want to look at a decade ago. MEMS was supposed to "frickin' take off" in 2002 with bubble switches, etc - it didn't. Many investors, VCs in particular, were left holding the bag as MEMS companies folded or fizzled - good luck getting them to ride that horse again. Yes, MEMs is doing well in accelerometers and DLP. but "taking off" hasn't happened, nor will it - anything monolithic CMOS can do, CMOS will do, including clock sources. Yes, MEMs will likely set the world on fire - by going down in flames after the bubble, you are trying to recreate, bursts again.
A gathering of people building flying cars is not going to put one in every garage in any foreseeable future. Your MEMs technology buddies need a market, one they haven't managed to find yet. Cheerleading doesn't create market pull, just creates a false sense of being able to win in a game where nobody bought tickets.
Meanwhile, I'd prefer to have those chemical-laced "manufacturing" facilities, you seem to think are so great, poisoning the Chinese, and not my children's, groundwater and air.
The US needs to focus its direction towards clean and green, not smog and dog.
- 50% of all cell phones had a MEMS microphone in 2011, up from 37% in 2010
- 43% of handsets used a MEMS accelerometer in 2011 up from 38% the previous year
- In average there were 10.8 MEMS sensors in each car in 2011...
Yes, there have been some hypes - I remember the bubble switch of HP and the RF MEMS in 2002 - but overall I don't think your comment "Your MEMs technology buddies need a market, one they haven't managed to find yet." is right anymore.
And BTW, even RF MEMS in handsets are no longer a hype, we found the first RF MEMS tuner in a Samsung handset a few weeks ago!
@Jeremie Bouchaud thanks for your list of key facts supporting the fact that MEMS is a real industry with real history and a really great future; not to be likened to "flying cars" as referenced by @El Presidente.
MEMS will continue to make the world a better, safer, cleaner place - with MEMS in buildings and medical devices we'll see buildings that shut themselves off when no-one is inside them; and stroke patients able to walk and move again thanks stabilization gyros. I could go on and on....