MEMS is an acronym for MicroElectroMechanical Systems. However most MEMS implementations to date have not been systems at all, but rather devices. The level of integration either monolithically or heterogeneously has been minimal at best.
A key conference next month will shed lots more light on the MEMS-based systems solutions (MBSS) topic. First, on June 7, at the Sensors Expo in Rosemount (Chicago) Illinois, 15 speakers will address the topic of MBSS in a session entitled Think Outside the Chip: MEMS-Based Systems Solutions. Note that Sensors Expo will be co-located with the Embedded Systems Conference. The morning keynote will be provided by Professor Thomas Gessner of Fraunhofer Chemnitz (Germany), who has been a major advocate of this approach for many years. His presentation called Examples of Smart Systems Solutions: From Monitoring Systems to Micro Analysis Systems will provides detailed case studies on a number of interesting and emerging applications on Smart System Integration. The afternoon keynote, Dr. Peter Hartwell of HP Labs, will present the paper Applying New MEMS Architecture to Achieve Low-Cost, Ultra-Sensitive Wireless Sensors for Mission Critical Applications which details the autonomous MEMS sensing network described above. Another afternoon keynote, Dr. Gereon Meyer of VDI/VDE (Germany), will make a presentation entitled Thinking Outside the Chip: The European Platform of Smart Systems (EPoSS). There will also be a panel discussion at the conclusion of the session addressing. This is named Integration Tradeoffs for a Design for Manufacturing World.
Some of the most successful earlier monolithic “systems” have been demonstrated by Analog Devices in their inertial sensor product line and with Akustica in their microphone product line. It's interesting to note that ADI has gradually migrated from their monolithic integration strategy to that of an ASIC/device approach. Akustica stays steadfast in its pure monolithic approach.
MBSS use front-end MEMS, with a combination of one or many sensors, actuators and or structures, which function with other devices. This could include signal conditioning ASICS, DSP embedded software, energy creation and storage, and networking communications functions. All of these functions need to be interconnected and contained in a small, robust, low-cost package that has the ability to be tested in a high-throughput fashion. The concepts of classical system engineering that can bring the design team together from Day 1 are tied in with co-design principles that acknowledge the interaction of the MEMS, other electronics and packaging. And they all embrace the design for manufacturing (DFM) and test principles that are required.
Approaches to MBSS
MBSS fall into two categories. The first is enabling engine that drives the solution. This concept is driven by MEMS technology that is the intellectual property of the creator of the solution. An example is the recently introduced high-sensitivity accelerometer introduced by HP that will be used to create a wireless autonomous sensor network for seismic oil and gas exploration applications. In this design, HP has partnered with Shell Oil to create a mesh network of sensors that will monitor the response of the earth into which they've been embedded that will measure a spectral response of the ground as the ground is pounded by a machine. The development of sophisticated algorithms in this system will provide valuable information for ground-based oil and gas exploration.
Note that HP is not planning to sell the high-performance accelerometer to the merchant market, but rather use it as an enabling engine for many types of low-level, large-dynamic-range vibration measurements. They also have plans to extend the application of this data-acquisition strategy for the monitoring of civil engineering structures, including dams, tunnels, and bridges to determine the structural integrity of these systems to provide early warning to avert fatalities due to structural failure. HP plans to sell the solution to its customers, increasing the value add of the accelerometer engine to include massive cloud computing and data analysis, all using HP’s competencies.