Heterointegration Spoor in the 2015 Analog, MEMS and Sensor Startups to Watch, Part 3

Heterointegration Spoor in the 2015 Analog, MEMS and Sensor Startups to Watch, Part 3

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I drew your attention to what Peter Clarke, writing in EETimes on 02 January 2015, called the “15-in-15: Analog, MEMS and sensor startups to watch in 2015.”

If we were to look for heterointegration spoor amongst Peter’s 15 notable startups what would we find?

The first “10-in-15” companies profiled in Parts 1 and 2, namely Cambridge CMOS Sensors; Chirp Microsystems; Dual Aperture International Co. Ltd; Dyna Image; and Gpixel Inc, (Part 1) and Hanking Electronics;  InVisage; ISORG; Linx Imaging; and mCube Inc. (Part 2) had a heavy presence on the ground when we looked for heterointegration spoor.

Of particular note were mCube and Cambridge CMOS Sensors, both recent winners of MEMS Industry Group awards; mCube was named MEMS start-up of the year, and won the technology showcase competition at the MEMS Executive Congress US 2014, and CCS was presented with a crown at the MEMS Executive Congress Europe 2015 to mark it winning the competition for emerging applications of MEMS and sensors.

Coincidence, or a trend, that this group of 15 startups is so innovative, so highly recognized, and that for their success many of them rely on heterogeneous integration in their product platforms? You decide.

You’ve hung with me two-thirds of the way, so, readers, raise your spotting glasses, watch your steps, and join me as we make our final push to find heterointegration spoor in this last group of 5 in the 15 startups to watch in 2015.

I see a couple of familiar tracks already.

Merus Audio AS is a Danish company producing fully integrated single-chip solutions for home audio, portable audio, and automotive audio applications.  Their eximo™ audio amplifiers enable “the smallest possible amplifier solutions for slim and compact audio products for the home …with the lowest power consumption and the smallest footprint for battery-powered audio devices,” among other features.

Merus Audio Logo ImageJust what’s inside an eximo™ amplifier? A unique power stage topology; more—but smaller—power transistors; a power stage that generates multilevel modulation patterns of up to five levels, thereby approximating the audio signal much closer than conventional class-D amplifiers; and some other secret sauce.

I think we’re going to have to wait for a tear-down to see just what all is inside the 64-pin thermally enhanced QFN package with pad-down exposed thermal pad (EPAD) that contains eximo, but I imagine we have power transistors and digital control logic, among other components. Whether they are heterogeneously integrated or not remains to be seen.

Tube Amp Image

But I do see that some of the sleek eximo-based amplifiers make tube amps look stodgy. Unless of course you go for that tube amp look…to match your Hasselblad. Rolling old school.

If you have never visited Georgia Tech I highly recommend you do; innovation in silicon doesn’t just come from a valley near San Francisco. NextInput Inc., is a Georgia Tech spin-off, and it’s got a couple of heavy MEMS hitters, Steve Nasiri (founder of InvenSense), and Kurt Petersen (“Silicon as a Mechanical Material”) advising it. Talk about a company to watch. “Always bet on the team,” they say down there on Sand Hill Road.

NextImage ForceTouch Image 2“NextInput has developed force and pressure sensitive touch technologies based on MEMS sensors, an innovative new way of interacting with electronic devices. Our patent-pending technology provides a tactile, force or pressure sensitive method of interfacing with virtually any electronic device.”

The technology, ForceTouch, positions sensors in an array beneath a device’s display, with no impact on optical clarity; NextInput says “a ForceTouch touchscreen provides the same degree of resolution as a capacitive touchscreen at lower cost and lower power.”

When materials like glass, polycarbonate, and even LCD display modules are integrated so that they can be used to transfer force from touchpoints to the ForceTouch MEMS sensor array then I am going to call that heterointegration, albeit maybe of a somewhat different flavor than some of the other heterointegration technologies we’ve seen so far. We are 1 for 2 in this segment.

Qualtré seems like an old friend by now – great to see you here in this 15-in-15 list Qualtré!

Why an old friend? It’s about Bulk Acoustic Wave devices: “Qualtré is the world’s leading developer of solid-state, silicon MEMS-based motion sensors that are the best price/performance solutions for a wide range of markets including industrial, mobile, consumer and automotive. To meet the demands of emerging applications within the $4.8B market for gyros … Qualtré has developed next-generation motion sensors based on its proprietary, multi-axis bulk acoustic wave (BAW) MEMS gyroscope technology that combines high performance, low cost and environmental ruggedness.”

BAW (and FBAR) devices are old MEMS friends used for RF filtering in smartphones and cellular handsets, and here they are at Qualtré in a new guise, that of MEMS gyroscopes. (Oh, and there’s another Georgia Tech angle too: “Qualtré’s products are built using a novel, yet proven, manufacturing process and are based on the first ever application of BAW technology to inertial sensors. Qualtré’s product development efforts build upon years of research conducted at Georgia Tech’s renowned Integrated MEMS Laboratory.” (Take that Stanford!)

Looking for an analog output gyro? “The QGYR330HA is a fully integrated, analog output, three-axis angular rate sensor (gyroscope) that is based on Qualtré’s patented Bulk Acoustic Wave (BAW) MEMS technology manufactured in the HARPSS™ process, which allows unprecedented robustness, performance, and size advantages over conventional MEMS tuning-fork gyroscopes. … a fully integrated interface IC provides signal conditioning and amplification, and stores factory-set calibration coefficients. The on-board electronics require minimal external components beyond power supply decoupling capacitors and a single pull up resistor.”

And is that fully integrated interface IC heterogeneously integrated? Alas, I don’t see either that it firmly is, or firmly is not.

Readers, do you know? Until then, let’s leave this one hanging …

Speaking of gyroscopes, consider Senodia Technologies Co. Ltd.   This Shanghai-based MEMS solution supplier is producing components such as an integrated Z‐Axis angular rate sensor (Gyroscope), the SZ030H. Its single QFN package contains a high performance silicon micro machined sensor with signal conditioning circuitry, low‐pass filters, and EPROM for on‐chip factory calibration for the sensor.

That’s a lot of content inside one package. But is it heterointegration? Looks like Senodia should be going in that direction, but I’m not sure whether or not there are there yet. Stay tuned.

Is it 15 o’clock already? Indeed it is. Vesper Technologies Inc. is 15th (alphabetically) on Peter Clarke’s list, and therefore on mine also. And they, Vesper, are doing nothing less than reinventing sound.

Utilizing piezoelectric technology, “Vesper microphones are extremely durable, natively waterproof, shock-proof, and both dust- and particle-resistant. These unique attributes make them highly attractive to mobile handset, wearables and IoT device companies that want to deliver the highest-fidelity acoustic experience to customers in the most robust package.” (We had to work that IoT angle in again.)

It’s a piezoelectric technology that uses AlN as the piezo material, and is similar to the AlN-based FBAR filters made by Agilent, the FBAR fabrication process being “a proven, highly reliable and controlled manufacturing process that has been used to ship billions of RF components in mobile phones. This tight manufacturing process control means that our microphones are remarkably consistent in manufacturing with little variation from mic to mic. This improved matching makes our devices more suitable to large arrays.”rcj_Vesper_MEMS_Microphone_package

But is it heterointegration, the way the Agilent FBAR product is? Alas, no, it’s the MEMS chip and an ASIC side-by-side, bonded an a common substrate.

Maybe for the next generation it will be. Heterogeneously integrated, that is.

In African game parks there are the Big Five animals to sight: the African lion; the African elephant; the Cape buffalo; the African leopard; and either the White, or the Black, rhinoceros. Did we see Big 5 heterointegration spoor in our look through the 15-in-15?

We saw this: Cambridge CMOS Sensors (MEMS sensors integrated on CMOS chips using TSV technology); image sensors of various flavors integrated with their combined electronics; InVisage, with its Quantum Dot on silicon chips, ISORG (Co-integration of printed sensors with discretes and ICs on plastic); mCube (integrated MEMS motion sensors above standard CMOS using through-silicon via connections); and NextInput (glass, polycarbonate, and even LCD display modules integrated so that they can be used to transfer force from touchpoints to the ForceTouch MEMS sensor array). We have our Big 5+ here at 3D+!

My conclusion, and I hope yours: heterogeneous integration clearly has important advantages in the world of smaller-faster-cheaper-better for one-third of the 2015 innovative 15-in-15. It will be interesting to follow their commercial progress as they carry the heterointegration flag into 2016, and beyond.

Peter Clarke, thank you again for giving me a launch pad for these pieces.

And from Pittsburgh, PA, readers, thank you for reading.  ~PFW