By 2011, Xie, over 50 years old, was getting jittery to start up his own company. “I was once told by my boss at Intel that I was nobody if I had not worked for Intel,” he said. “I felt I needed to start up a company, just to prove to my old boss that I can stand on my own.”
Xie set his sights on MEMS. While he’s no expert, he liked MEMS because he initially saw little competition in the field.
Joseph Xie, CEO at QST Corp.
While doing his due diligence, Xie stumbled across the Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology (SIMIT), which appeared to have good gyroscope technology.
Almost anywhere in the world, research institutes in general have “no sense of manufacturability, footprint, and cost necessary to turn their technology into successful products -- especially for the consumer electronics market,” Xie observed.
Xie initially talked SIMIT into giving QST the research institute’s gyroscope technology and its related patents in exchange for shares in QST. “No money changed hands,” said Xie.
Xie got another break when he was able to obtain “exclusive, worldwide and perpetual license of Honeywell's world famous Anisotropic Magneto-Resistive (AMR) magnetic sensor technology.”
By leasing a manufacturing line at Shanghai Huahong Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (HHGrace) and working with the foundry, QST was able to announce its first product last fall, the AMR magnetic sensor QMC6983. QST developed the three-axis single chip magnetic sensor based on Honeywell’s technology. The startup has sold 700,000 units of its first product since two months ago.
Pressure sensors in smartphones tend not to work well for indoors GPS largely due to interferences. Xie said his company’s AMR magnetic sensor solves this problem, offering high accuracy and better reliability because of its built-in self-checking function and temperature drift compensation module. Touting this advantage, QST says its AMR magnetic sensor can be used in wearable systems and a variety of other applications.
Xie, however, acknowledged that there’s still a long way to go before his company and other Chinese MEMS companies can catch up with such leading vendors as Bosch and STMicroelectronics. Startups not only have to play catch-up with the leaders, but they also need long-term plans that enable them to respond quickly to the evolution of sensors.
MEMS’ new paradigm
Yole Développement’s recent report pointed out, “Inertial MEMS have been subject to dramatic market & technological evolution.” Along with “stand-alone” MEMS devices, “6 and 9-axis degree of freedom (DOF) sensors are creating a new paradigm in the combos business,” the firm wrote. Emerging is a combination of several inertial sensors integrated in a single package. Main applications for such sensors are consumer, said the report. They include accelerometers with a magnetometer or accelerometers with a gyro.
Casual observers of MEMS say that the Chinese are interested in it largely because MEMS is a block that won’t get integrated by a big SoC in a handset, thus giving them enough breathing room to stand on their own.
That, however, is far from the truth.
Next Page: Barriers to entry