The world's first design win for microelectromechanical-system oscillators is a high-reliability military application--a wireless transmitter that streams real-time telemetry data back from smart munitions to remotely guide them to their target. Discera Inc. will announce Monday (April 9) that Tyco Electronics' subsidiary M/A-COM (Lowell, Mass.) will use its MOS-1 MEMS oscillator in a wireless transmitter built for smart munitions. During testing, M/A-COM removed some warheads, allowing munitions to be retrieved after impact--and Discera's oscillators were still ticking.
"Our MEMS oscillator will be used in telemetry transmitters that must endure the shock of being fired with all the various different types of smart munitions in the U.S. arsenal," said Venkat Bahl, vice president of marketing at Discera (San Jose, Calif.). "Military observers present during M/A-COM's rigorous shock-testing procedures were at first skeptical of MEMS, but 100 percent of our MOS-1 chips passed [the tests]."
Discera claims the superior shock resistance comes courtesy of the MEMS oscillators' gravity-defying weight. Simulations predict the oscillators can survive shocks of 100,000 g's, the company said. During M/A-COM's testing procedure, which involved shooting a calibrated high-pressure air gun against the stationary MOS-1, the oscillators could handle the limit of their instrumentation, 14,000 g's. For comparison, dropping a laptop produces a shock of about 2 to 4 g's.
"M/A-COM is selling our MEMS oscillators into an area where reliability has been a problem for them, making us proud that our first design win is into this incredibly difficult application," said Bahl.
Today, M/A-COM's telemetry transmitters for military munitions utilize a $65 temperature-controlled, hermetically sealed, quartz-crystal oscillator. By qualifying Discera's MOS-1, M/A-COM will be able to switch to a smaller, less expensive MEMS substitute. Discera is still negotiating a final price, but did indicate that the final tag would be at least 10 times less than the quartz-crystal price--that is, less than $6.50.
"I'm not at liberty to tell you exactly how many units M/A-COM has ordered or how much they will pay for them," Bahl said. "But I can say that we are already fulfilling its order for samples, that our part is fully qualified, and that we are currently in the final stages of negotiating a price for a volume- purchase agreement with M/A-COM."
If MEMS oscillators from Discera and companies such as SiTime Inc. and Silicon Clocks Inc. start seeing consumer design wins, they could gain access to a market far larger than the one for military munitions. The oscillators would be following the path pioneered by Analog Devices Inc., whose MEMS accelerometer is designed into Nintendo's Wii videogame controller.
"MEMS devices are already being ordered in high volumes for consumer markets," said Jim Tully, analyst at Gartner Dataquest, pointing to "Nintendo Wii handsets, car airbags and navigation systems" as examples.
MEMS accelerometers from ADI, Bosch-Sensortec, STMicroelectronics and Infineon are triggering airbags worldwide today. Akustica and Knowles Electronics make MEMS microphones.