MEMS Symposium Report: Chasing 1 Trillion

The 10th Annual MEMS Technology Symposium sponsored by MEPTEC (MicroElectronics Packaging and Test Engineering Council) was held May 23 at the San Jose Holiday Inn. This year’s theme was “Sensors: A Foundation for Accelerated MEMS Market Growth to $1 Trillion.” Registered attendance was ~230.

The conference opened with a keynote address by Prof. Kristofer Pister, UC Berkeley speaking on sensory swarms. Inexpensive, wireless sensor networks have moved out of the lab and are being implemented in myriad applications. A refinery in Richmond, CA has methane gas sensors at every valve to monitor emissions. Parking spaces in San Francisco and Hollywood are tagged with car sensors to provide dynamic signage directing drivers to open spaces; this system also communicates with a smart phone app (“Parker”) to take you to specific open spaces. Rail cars have temperature and vibration sensors on every truck for predictive and preventive maintenance. Wireless sensors in the field are projected to top 1.1 billion units by 2015, up from 168 million units in 2010.

Janusz Bryzek, VP Fairchild Semiconductor, revisited his theme of accelerating the MEMS market to $1 Trillion and 1 trillion units. A $1 wireless sensor unit will require a 20¢ internet access module. The HP notion of a central nervous system for the earth will call for an average of ~1,000 sensors for every person. Smart phones have spurred the initial growth burst for MEMS, but the internet of things represents the “largest growth opportunity in the history of business.” Factors slowing MEMS market development include relatively slow MEMS process R&D cycles, and a lack of industry standards for manufacturing, packaging and testing. The fusion of computing, communication and sensing has been characterized as the third industrial revolution by Vijay Ullal of Maxim. While manufacturing jobs continue to be outsourced, the profitability and job creation potential at the innovation, design and marketing end remains a lucrative economic driver for the US.

Robert Haak of MANCEF described the implementation of the $1T MEMS roadmap. The key technologies needed for success include RF, chemical measurements, energy sourcing, inertial measurements, pressure measurements, acoustic sensors and displays. The industry roadmap infrastructure needs to evolve to a 3rd generation that focuses on products that are conceived at the interface of more than one technology. Specific roadmaps proposed are sensors, data transfer and data processing equipment. These are proposed to have a 15 year outlook with a 5 year review cycle.

Richard Friedrich of HP Labs spoke of the aforementioned central nervous system for the earth, CeNSE: awareness through a trillion MEMS sensors. The subtitle of his talk proclaimed this as the decade of sensing and sense-making. True more for technology than for politics. The infrastructure behind this enterprise will require about 1,000x more bandwidth than today’s internet has available. His vision projects ~150 sensors for every person on the planet, fewer than the second speaker but with a focus specifically on CeNSE applications. A MEMS nanofinger substrate for surface enhanced Raman scattering  (SERS) provides a signal enhancement factor of 1011, enabling a detection sensitivity of 0.02 parts per trillion. The use of people as sensors is manifest in real time analysis of Tweets for regional tuning of marketing campaigns. The HP Social Computing Lab claims 97% accuracy in predicting movie revenues based on the response to pre-release advertising. Work is underway to simulate the human brain visual cortex using a system with 64,512 cores that has demonstrated the ability to learn without being taught. The root objective of a CeNSE network is to convert the flood of data into insight that leads to action. Skynet?

Greg Galvin, CEO of Kionix, presented another perspective of sensing the future on the road to a $1T market. They focus solely on inertial sensors, which had a 2004-2011 unit CAGR of ~100%. Unit prices of accelerometers, compasses and pressure sensors are already well below $1, with gyroscopes to follow by 2015. MEMS components have been averaging 2% of the end cost of products that use them. His conclusion was that a $1T market for MEMS over the next 10 years is unlikely, even though a 1T unit market is probably, and a $1T market for MEMS-enabled devices is a given.

Jérémie Bouchaud of IHS iSuppli couched his perspective as a “MEMS revolution: from billions to trillions?” The 5 year MEMS CAGR is presently running at 9.7% for revenue overall and 20.7% for shipments. Smart phones by themselves have a 17.8% revenue CAGR, and are a significant market driver. MEMS microphones are another beneficiary of smart phones, which now include multiple microphones for both speaking and for background noise suppression. Despite the myriad growth opportunities, he believes the prospect of a $1T MEMS market will require price points ≤5¢ per unit, and an expansion of the market definition to include sensors for temperature, light, humidity, UV and others.

The afternoon keynote was delivered by Steve Nasiri, founder of InvenSense, a big player in the motion interface MEMS market. Just 3 applications, mobile handsets, media tablets and gaming represent a $2.4B market by 2015. The gyro market was slow to get started until Apple put one in the iPhone in 2010. Within a year, over 70 other models were on the market with gyros, even though some didn’t seem to know what to do with them. The wearable sensor market for remote patient monitoring, home monitoring, sports & fitness will push to $150M by 2015. Does your mother live too far away to tell you not to slouch? A shirt with an embedded posture sensor can handle that for her. InvenSense has just announced an open platform infrastructure to facilitate rapid MEMS applications development.

Jean-Christophe Eloy of Yole Développement provided a status of the MEMS industry with a focus on new drivers and the path to new opportunities. The overall MEMS market is ~$10B now, growing to ~$21B by 2017. While the MEMS markets continue to grow, they are still only ~10% of the value of the end markets they enable. Accelerometer / gyroscope systems with 6 degrees of freedom (DOF) have largely been displaced by newer systems with 9 or 10 DOF. All of the growth notwithstanding, he remains skeptical of a $1T MEMS device market.

Stephen Breit of Coventor took us to the software design side of the business with his comments on realizing the full potential of MEMS design automation. If invention is the first wave, and manufacturing differentiation is the second wave, then the third wave is going to be innovation in design and integration. This is the catalyst that will be needed and has the potential to drive the hyper growth if the industry is to hit the $1T mark. Simulation of the integrated MEMS system will make it possible to compress the development cycle from the 2009 benchmark of 4-5 years. This vision includes process design kits and MEMS design kits (modules) similar to the design efficiencies achieved in ASICs. Coventor has a partnership with IMEC that was facilitated by IMEC’s integrated SiGe CMOS + MEMS integration scheme.

Russell Shumway of Amkor took us to the end of the production line with a discussion of high volume assembly and test solutions to support a rapidly growing MEMS market. He anticipates that there will be a greater tendency toward package standardization over the next 10-20 years, but the variety of packaging options is so large that the diversity will still be formidable.

Tristan Joo, Co-Chair of Mobile SIG of the Wireless Communications Alliance reviewed a few case studies of fusing sensors into mobile operating systems. Current smart phones already contain 12-18 sensors, including inertial, optical, touch, audio, magnetic, geo-positional and environmental. The future has a context-aware sensory data cloud in store for us. Smart phone apps that take full advantage of these sensors amount to less than a 0.5% share of apps downloads across all iPhone, Android and Windows OS platforms. I myself can use my smart phone as a bubble level, an audio dB sound meter, a thermometer, a compass, a ruler, a document scanner and a mechanical energy harvester to recharge my battery. But I’m a geek.

The remaining scheduled time comprised six brief presentations by companies showcasing new applications under the banner of “MEMS for the Rest of Us.”

Hillcrest Labs provides motion control systems for consumer electronics and other markets. Their flagship platform is the Freespace® MotionEngine™ that includes a gesture recognition engine and a variety of mobile, gaming and TV applications.

Movea develops data fusion software for processing sensor data into usable information. It is a spin-off of CEA-Leti in France. Fundamental elements of human motion have been compiled into a periodic table, cleverly presented as the Chemistry of Motion.

Sensor Platforms provides data fusion software in their FreeMotion™ library with the objective of being hardware agnostic. He favors mobile devices that respond to human action and context, not in the sense of obeying gestures and commands, but more in the sense of recognizing what’s going on and acting accordingly. For example, when your smart phone calendar says you’re in a meeting, a really smart phone will silence most calls and allow vibration only for a select short list of callers. The end result is to use the available data and context to anticipate intent.

Syride makes a rugged sports-oriented GPS device for tracking speed, elevation and location for hobbies such as surfing, sailing, skiing, skydiving and hang gliding. I use “Map My Walk,” which I will henceforth think of as the couch potato analog of Syride.

VectorNav Technologies is a hardware and software company that takes consumer level motion systems and upgrades them to industrial strength using established aerospace technology. Applications include human exoskeletons for the handicapped, and human motion capture for movies and medical applications. I’m pretty sure I misunderstood when I heard something about a home Cruise missile.

Xsens specializes in sensor fusion software for smart phones, tablets and sports applications. On-body MEMS sensors enable a new paradigm for body motion capture, embodied in a 17 sensor system integrated in a Lycra body suit. The system has already been used in developing video games.

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