PORTLAND, Ore -- Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) microphones have become so much more than smaller versions of the once ubiquitous electrostatic induction based microphones -- electrets -- before them.
MEMS microphones are enabling a whole new tier of "always on" connected, handheld and wearable electronics that will eventually monitor not just our every sound but also those in the environment around us. As such, our devices will not only interpret our voice commands, hand gestures and even the emotions in our voice patterns, but will begin to anticipate our needs by listening to the activity around us and volunteering the information we need at the exact moment we need it.
Once portrayed as a dead-end market destined to become a mere commodity where the most important parameter was cost. Today MEMS microphones have proven that their added value has no bound in sight.
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There are over a dozen suppliers of MEMS microphones worldwide, according to the latest IHS report MEMS and Sensors Report, Microphones 2014 -- with Knowles far ahead of the second-tier suppliers -- many of which are getting their die from Infineon, Omron or MEMSense. Note Akustica is owned by Bosch and Invensense bought Analog Devices MEMS microphone business in 2013. Click here for larger image
MEMS microphone makers worldwide are cashing in on a market that will top $1 billion in sales in 2014 according to IHS Inc. (Englewood, Colo.). The majority of the die inside these MEMS microphones come from just a few suppliers:
Knowles Corp. (Itasca, Ill.) makes its own dies;
Infineon Technologies AG (Neubiberg, Germany) supplies dies to AAC Technologies Holdings Inc. (Shenzhen, China), Goertek Inc. (Shandong, China), Best Sound Electronics, BSE Co. Ltd. (Seoul, Korea), Hosiden Corp. (Osaka, Japan), Gettop Acoustic Co. Ltd. (ShanDong, China) and others;
Invensense Inc. (San Jose, Calif.), who bought Analog Devices unique single-chip CMOS MEMS microphone business in 2013, uses TSMC foundry;
While always using its own interface device STMicroelectronics (Geneva, Switzerland) sources the mechanical chip for some of its MEMS microphones from Omron Corp. (Kyoto, Japan);
A handful of others also make their own proprietary MEMS microphone dies, notably Akustica (manufactured by parent company Robert Bosch GmbH, Stuttgart, Germany), Wolfson Microelectronics pic, Edinburgh U.K. (acquired by Cirrus Logic, Inc., Austin, Texas) is believed by IHS to be using a Teledyne Dalsa Inc. (Waterloo, Canada) foundry;
and several Chinese and Japanese manufacturers are making MEMS microphone die, such as MEMSensing Microsystems Co., Ltd. (Suzhou, China) and New Japan Radio Co. (NJRC, Tokyo).
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.