SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A new micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) conference debuted this week, Shaping the Future of MEMS and Sensors, on September 10 in Santa Clara, California, hosted by STMicroelectronics. A wide variety of representatives from the MEMS ecosystem presented their views on where MEMS is headed, in two parallel tracks, one on MEMS in consumer electronics and the other on MEMS in healthcare and wellness.
First up in the consumer track was Becky Oh, president and CEO of PNI Sensors Inc. (Santa Rosa, Calif.), who presented the history behind PNI's latest innovation -- a tiny 1.5-by-1.5-by-0.5-millimeter chip that can perform the complex sensor fusion function for any manufacturer's accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and altimeter, then output location readings to any applications processor. Called Sentral, the hardware state-machine chip is similar in function to the M7 sensor fusion chip just announced by Apple for its iPhone 5s in that it offloads the sensor fusion function from the application processor while consuming just one percent of its power.
Other highlights in the consumer track included Broadcom's senior program manager, Steve Malkos, who described an innovative sensor fusion algorithm for determining location information for vehicles by combining the outputs from GPS with the dead-reckoning capabilities of accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and altimeter. Called the Hybrid Universal Location Application, HULA uses Kalman filters to compensate for errors in individual sensors -- such as blocked GPS signals or stray magnetic fields affecting magnetometer readings -- resulting in more accurate location information.
Broadcom's Hybrid Universal Location Application, HULA, uses Kalman filters to compensate for errors in individual sensors, resulting in more accurate location tracking (bottom right) that can be achieved with a magnetometer (upper right) or a gyro (bottom left). (Click here to enlarge image. )
"Broadcom has been working on HULA since 2006," said Malkos in the session. "Now it provides superior accuracy even in the canyons of cities where buildings are often in the way of GPS signals."
In a session entitled Data Fusion -- The Cornerstone of MEMS Applications, Tim Kelliher, Customer Solutions Architect at Movea Inc. (Pleasanton, Calif.), argued that for the future we need to move beyond "sensor fusion" to "data fusion," since smartphones now have access to different types of data that could enable them to anticipate your needs even before you do -- for instance, automatically turning off your ringtone when you are inside a movie theater.
In a session titled MEMS and Sensors, a Journey to Mainstream, Janusz Bryzek, vice president, MEMS and Sensors Solutions at Fairchild Semiconductor, predicted that in the near future trillions of MEMS sensors will be deployed worldwide, requiring 130 million eight-inch ASIC wafers and 260 million eight-inch MEMS wafers for a total of 300 million square meters of silicon substrate. Bryzek traced the history of MEMS sensors from the 1950s to today, predicted that the MEMS market will continue to grow faster than semiconductors (see chart below) and appealed to visionaries to contribute their insights to an open-source roadmap for sensor development -- similar to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors -- which will be one of the goals at the Trillion Sensors Summit (October 23-25, 2013, Stanford, Calif.), for which he is serving as chairman.
The market for MEMS chips (green) is growing slightly faster than the semiconductor market (blue) and will reach the trillion unit mark circa 2023. (Click here to enlarge image.)
(Source: Janusz Bryzek, Fairchild Semiconductor)
In the keynote address entitled Ubiquitous MEMS and Sensors in Wearables and Everything We Use in a Safer, Easier, and More Efficient New World, Benedetto Vigna, executive vice president and general manager of Analog, MEMS, and Sensors at STMicroelectronics provided a bridge between the already burgeoning consumer MEMS market and the fast-growing market for MEMS in healthcare and wellness. Vigna traced the history of the man-machine interface from keyboards to the mouse to the current use of motion-sensing MEMS sensors to control machines, typified by the Nintendo Wii. As a result of that success, the current explosion of new man-machine interface options has taken hold, leading to the popularity of touch, gesture, speech, and image recognition in consumer devices. Now that consumer interest has taken hold, the transition is underway to wearables that harness the same MEMS sensors for wellness, such as Fitbit and Nike Fuelband, which work to encourage fitness by tracking our activity levels.