Granted, while there may not have been a single “aha!” moment at the 2016 European MEMS Summit, held September 15-16 in Stuttgart Germany, the speakers did provide interesting food for thought as they talked about their companies’ activities and offerings in MEMS and sensor technology.
In addition to the summary I posted earlier this week, I’ve pulled together some compelling take-always from selected speakers.
Andrea Onetti, ST Microelectronics on taking MEMS to high volumes:
“IoT is the most used and the most abused word of today. What is important today is to say ‘smart’.” Onetti went on to explain that if we want to implement MEMS in high volumes, it’s not important just to have the technology, it’s important to address the capability to go into high-volume manufacturing with a technology that the market wants. “Let’s follow what the market wants and where it is. There are sensors, MEMS and then there is a fragmented world,” he said.
Benedetto Vigna, ST Microelectronics on what is driving MEMS and Sensors:
“Fun is driving the need for sensors, for example, virtual reality. New generations will use these things, not just for games but for experiencing life.” He cited Pokémon GO! as the most useful application where augmented reality changes reality. He shared the story of the mayor of Dusseldorf, Germany, who rather than banning Pokémon GO! from public places, blocked off a bridge to traffic so that players can catch the pocket monsters in safety.
Vigna also said that it’s also important to consider all the stakeholders and collaborators when developing MEMS and sensors. “What we learned is that if you go too much along on your own way, and push more into a smart sensor than a customer is willing to accept, you will be kicked out,” he said. “We are making the sensors at the right level where we are not offending interests of other players.”
Claude Jean, Teledyne DALSA on foundry challenges:
“What do the fastest growing MEMS companies have in common? They were lucky, they were at the right place at the right time, and they delivered ONE successful product.” For most MEMS foundries, he said, life is not so simple. They must deal with multiple technologies and products and that’s where the complexity really starts. Most times the problem is not creating the perfect MEMS process and product but how to mix many perfect MEMS on the same line.
Peter Clarke, EE Times on start-ups:
I guess I wasn’t quite finished quoting Clarke. Here’s another good one: “It’s a healthy sign that Europe continues to generate start-ups and punch above our weight. We need to take those start-ups to great commercial success.”
This year’s event featured three successful European start-ups:
- Innoluce, a Phillips spin-out that developed MEMS mirrors for automotive safety and medical diagnostics. CEO Marijn van Os said the technology has potential for affordable, solid-state light detection and ranging (LIDAR) for use in autonomous vehicles so they can “see” the road. Additionally, a medical application use case is a catheter-based diagnostic scope that also allows for diagnosis treatment in one consultation. It has the ability to scan in same view of the endoscopic camera, yet provides direct results. The same catheter can then be used for laser treatments.
- USound, a German start-up that claims to “enable a new paradigm for audio smart systems in portable devices.” The company’s value proposition is that it brings well-known MEMS advantages, such as size and cost reduction while providing great quality audio.
- Polight, a Fabless optical MEMS Norwegian company created in 2009 that has developed a MOEMS actuator for high-performance tunable focusing lens functionality. This simple structure is based on an encapsulated polymer between a glass window and a glass membrane. A piezo actuator bends the membrane to create the tunable lens. Polight CTO Pierre Craen says the unique performance of the lens will enhance mobile camera functionality, enabling a whole new level of picture quality, functionality and user experiences, The company has raised 17M euros in funding.
- Enerbee, a French company that has developed motion-based harvesting technology that is solving the critical need of powering more devices in the IoT market. Jocelyne Wasselin, CEO, said this CEA spin-out combines the best of piezoelectric and vibration to create an energy harvester that can generate energy with low and irregular movement. The energy is used to generate power and enable data transmission via ZigBee or Bluetooth LE emission. It provides 100x better performance than electromagnetic generators. The technology is focused on three market domains: smart buildings for HVAC, gas flow metering, and an industrial environment. Wasselin says the capability is proven, and the next step is to bring autonomy and resilience to connected devices. The first product will be introduced next year, most likely in a smart building application.
Udo Gómez, Bosch Sensortec, on smart sensing for the IoT:
“Intelligent and distributed sensors will be and important building block for all IoT applications.” Gómez also stressed that machine learning in the cloud will become increasingly important as applications become more and more complex. The classical approach will be neither cost-effective nor time-effective. However, he didn’t want to make predictions about when we would see these sensors. “On sensor level, hard to predict what is happening next year. Hard to predict when technology will be ready for the user experience,” he said. “The smartphone is still the key driver today.”
Jan Peter Stadler, Bosch Automotive, on when to buy a new car.
“Today there are more than 50 sensors in one car. If your car has less than 30, you should consider buying a new car. “ Other automotive MEMS trends Stadler pointed out:
- Miniaturization: Combined inertial sensors technology in footprints that are 70% smaller. “Next generation sensors will be smaller, better in performance and cost less,” he said.
- Consumer electronic ideas go automotive: They are interesting because of low price and small size. However, drawbacks include temperature range, safety feature, bindingness of parameters, and quality.
- New applications for existing sensors: One example is a wake-up sensor for smart key applications. Keys can be equipped with low-cost acceleration sensors to detect the movement of the key. Sleep mode is enabled when the key is at rest.
Jürgen Weyer, NXP, on autonomous vehicles:
“It will be awhile before we have self-driving cars, but ADAS capabilities have made cars considerably safer because the car is complementing the driver reactions and warning us early.” He also said we need to become as good at sensor fusion as humans so we can take the human factor out of the equation. Even if cars are autonomous, there will likely be a driver required due to legal issues. Airplanes fly largely autonomously at this point, but there are still two pilots at the helm.
Weyer also discussed the importance of software development for use cases. “We can cut a piece of silicon anyway we want, now we need software algorithms,” he said.
Robert Aigner, Quorvo, on advanced packaging for MEMS:
Aigner talked about the epidemic growth of RF bulk acoustic wave (BAW) filters in wireless devices. At last count, there are 7 BAW filters in the iPhone. The most challenging part of the latest generation of technology is the mixed materials being used. “The latest generation of BAW has SOI, CMOS, and GaAS all living together in harmony. That’s more than $4 per part, and represents 30 man years worth of R&D,” said Aigner. “WLP is the only package suitable for this generation of BAW. It’s the smallest possible and cheapest possible. Ceramic and cavity packages are phasing it out.”
Martin Schrems, ams, on MEMS and optical sensing:
“Integration matters. Advanced packaging is important.” System integration is really important for a successful sensor solution, said Schrems. A full sensor solution includes the sensor, IC hardware, and system integration software. The advanced packaging technology depends on the sensor type. Chemical sensors range from discrete to system-in-package (SiP) and system-on-chip (SoC) integrated sensors.
For example, VOC multi-gas sensor used in wearables for a breathalyzer app uses SiP. He said 3D through silicon via (TSV) is becoming more important for ambient light sensors. Additionally, the low Z-height requirement for smart watches is driving 3D TSV adoption. As systems integrate more components, TSVs become more cost-effective. Lastly, he said we should keep an eye on photonics. MEMS will be a part of it. We will be integrating more and more functions with the sensors.
That about covers it. Looking forward to next year’s European MEMS Summit, which will take place in Grenoble in September. Stay tuned for details. ~ F.v.T