Portland, Ore. - Joining a lengthening line of large companies that have spun out entities with a MEMS focus, sensor vendor Robert Bosch GmbH has formed a subsidiary to centralize its microelectromechanical systems activities.
"MEMS accelerometers are increasing their penetration of business and consumer lifestyles with new consumer applications," said Richard Doherty, research director for the Envisioneering Group. "Handheld videogames, cell phones and biomedical devices are keeping tabs on their owners' movements-and increasingly, on intended controlling motions-crucial as products' keyboards shrink and become more cluttered."
Bosch Sensortec (Kusterdingen, Germany) will not compete with such MEMS giants as Analog Devices Inc. and Motorola Inc., which are mainly addressing the much larger automotive market, using MEMS for use in airbags and anti-lock brakes.
Instead, Bosch Sensortec will concentrate on the emerging consumer and medical MEMS-chip markets. In doing so, the startup will compete with young companies like Kionix Inc., Cornell University's commercial MEMS licensee. Earlier this year, Kionix claimed the world's smallest triaxis accelerometer, which measures just 5 x 5 x 1.2 mm.
Bosch Sensortec's own first product is also a triaxial accelerometer for consumer and medical applications, measuring 6 x 6 x 1.45 mm. Based on 17 years of MEMS development at Robert Bosch (Stuttgart, Germany), Sensortec's offering uses a high-aspect-ratio, deep-reactive ion-etching process.
Bosch Senortech joins other large companies that have spun off MEMS enterprises in recent years, including Freescale Semiconductor, which last year was spun out from Motorola and includes a MEMS division. In 2003, Infineon Technologies acquired SensoNor; in 2002, GE bought NovaSensor.
Some large companies are targeting the consumer and medical markets specifically. One of those is Oki Electric Industries Co. Ltd., which has announced a triaxial accelerometer measuring just 5 x 5 x 1.4 mm.
Sensortec will design its product for consumer applications, such as laptop drop detection, to lock up disk heads before impact; gesture recognition, such as scrolling up and down by tilting the PDA or cell phone; and MP3 functions for scrolling and selecting songs. Cell phone users will be able to use gesture recognition, for instance, to issue a command quickly, such as inside a theater when they want to turn off a cell phone without having to remove it from a pocket or purse. To turn off future cell phones quickly, the user will merely shake them. Likewise, triaxial accelerometers will be used in future PDAs to enable users to scroll up or down by tipping them forward or backward. Users will be able to halt scrolling with a quick shake of the hand.
In the medical arena, accelerometers are being designed into devices for bioanalysis and metered drug delivery along with health devices used for recreational purposes, like pedometers. Other application areas include global-positioning system enhancement, for navigation inside tunnels when the satellite signal is unavailable, and compass-tilt correction.
In other consumer areas, Sensortec plans to develop three-dimensional accelerometers for use in next-generation 3-D gaming consoles by incorporating gesture recognition into the consoles' controllers.
The company is also involved in a security-engineering effort. The goal is to use Bosch Sensortec's consumer applications to drive down the price of the chips that can be used in security applications, such as setting off alarms in response to suspicious situations. High-security personnel could be equipped with logbooks that would transmit their accelerometer's state, enabling an alarm to be set off if a book were suddenly snatched. In addition, security personnel could be equipped with badges to track their everyday movements. The badge would set off an alarm to other security personal if someone on patrol suddenly ceased to move.
With 400 million MEMS units shipped over its lifetime, Bosch claims to be one of the world's largest manufacturers of MEMS sensors.