Monday, December 9, 2013

MEMS: An Enabler of the Next Internet Revolution

Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and sensor fusion will play a critical role in enabling a more intelligent and intuitive Internet of Things (IoT)—one that will revolutionize the consumer space forever. The MEMS and sensor technology is here today and now is the time to harness it for your products and position yourself for this exciting future. I encourage you to read on and learn about some great examples of MEMS enabling IoT.
-Karen Lightman, Executive Director, MEMS Industry Group

MEMS: An Enabler of the Next Internet Revolution

Written by: Howard Wisniowski, President of HW Marketing Group.

The next internet revolution is shaping up and MEMS is poised to play an important role. Commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) or Machine to Machine (M2M) communications, this revolution consists primarily of machines talking to one another, with computer-connected humans observing, analyzing and acting upon the resulting 'big data' explosion it produces. While the first internet/web revolution changed the world profoundly, the disruptive nature of MEMS, M2M and the Internet of Things has the potential to change it even more as the big data machine will no longer be dependent on human data entry. The internet traffic will be automatically generated by millions of 'things' from which we can retool large parts of the world for better efficiency, security and environmental responsibility.

The enabling qualities of MEMS sensors quickly come to mind since they are increasingly becoming cheap, plentiful and can communicate, either directly with the internet or with internet-connected devices. Almost anything to which you can attach a sensor — a football helmet, an automobile, a smartphone, a cow in a field, a container on a cargo vessel, the air-conditioning unit in your office, a lamppost in the street — can become a node in the Internet of Things. Be it on location, altitude, velocity, temperature, illumination, motion, power, humidity, blood sugar, air quality, soil moisture... you name it, MEMS-based sensors will play an important role in gathering and/or disseminating data from millions of devices.

Deeper into the signal chain, however, is another class of MEMS devices that is evolving and will have a profound impact. At the heart of all the “connected” devices will be a component that provides the timing that enables all communication to occur.

In the past, timing components have typically been manufactured from quartz crystals, a nearly century-old technology unsuitable for integration into small, low power connectivity ICs. In contrast, a new generation of MEMS timing devices are appearing and are offered by companies such as Sand 9, Silicon Labs, IDT, and SiTime. Major advantages of MEMS timing devices include vibration immunity, shock resistance, power supply noise immunity, small package dimensions, and reliable operation at high sustained temperatures. Additionally, sourcing MEMS timing devices is significantly easier that quartz. Leadtimes are shorter, the ability to react to sudden upside is much faster, and the ability to leverage semiconductor batch manufacturing enables cost benefits as volumes scale.

For the IoT market, small size is a key factor. New timing devices are now available in ultra-small WLCSPs and can be co-packaged with Bluetooth Smart ICs. An example of this is
Sand 9’s MEMS resonators. Rugged, simplified Bluetooth Smart SiPs with the smallest dimensions and lowest power requirements are one of the factors driving Bluetooth adoption and IoT growth by enabling applications such as new industrial designs for wearable devices and tags.  With an ever increasing number of Bluetooth devices able to connect wirelessly, both the ecosystem and each device in it will increase in value and usefulness.

Speaking of smaller size, zero operate power, and higher performance, another MEMS technology is emerging that will also impact product designs serving the IoT trends. MEMS switches are now being introduced that require no power to switch while robust enough to  handle 300mW of ‘carry power’ performing as a sensor, high carry current switch or both. Announced earlier this year, Coto Technology’s RedRock™ MEMS-based magnetic reed switch is the latest example and is currently the world's smallest single-pole, single throw (SPST) switch at only 2-by-1 millimeter (with an even smaller one on the way). It is activated or closed by a magnetic field of less than 25 milliTeslas while being highly directional, making it virtually immune to stray magnetic fields. Applications that benefit include ultra-small hearing aids, implantable insulin pumps, capsule endoscopes in-a-pill, and even devices that track birds, land animals and sharks off the coast of Chatham Massachusetts, all products connected for data logging and programming.

There’s many exciting market possibilities for MEMS-based products in the emerging world of the Internet of Things as products become smaller, increase in capability and machine-to-machine communication grows in importance. I’ve only touched the surface and I’m sure there are many more examples in this continually evolving landscape as suppliers continue to roll out products with greater capabilities and enable applications that were not possible before. Who is next? Share your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Are Hardware Hubs Coming?

Submitted by: Bryon Moyer, Editor of EE Journal

Sensor fusion has been all the rage over the last year. We’ve all watched as numerous companies – both makers of sensors and the “sensor-agnostic” folks – have sported dueling algorithms. Sensor fusion has broadened into “data fusion,” where other non-sensor data like maps can play a part. This drama increasingly unfolds on microcontrollers serving as “sensor hubs.”

But there’s something new stirring. While everyone has been focusing on the algorithms and which microcontrollers are fastest or consume the lowest power, the suggestion is being put forward that the best way to execute sensor fusion software may not be in software: it may be in hardware.

Software and hardware couldn’t be more different. Software is highly flexible, runs anywhere (assuming compilers and such), and executes serially. (So far, no one that I’m aware of has proposed going to multicore sensor fusion for better performance.) Hardware is inflexible, may or may not depend on the underlying platform, and can run blazingly fast because of massive inherent parallelism.

Of course, then there’s the programmable version of hardware, the FPGA. These are traditionally large and power-hungry – not fit for phones. A couple companies – QuickLogic and Lattice – have, however, been targeting phones with small, ultra-low-power devices and now have their eyes on sensor hubs. Lattice markets their solution as a straight-up FPGA; QuickLogic’s device is based on FPGA technology, but they bury that fact so that it looks like a custom part.

Which solution is best is by no means a simple question. Hardware can provide much lower power – unless sensor hub power is swamped by something else, in which case it theoretically doesn’t matter. (Although I’ve heard few folks utter “power” and “doesn’t matter” in the same breath.) Non-programmable hardware is great for standard things that are well-known; software is good for algorithms in flux. Much of sensor fusion is in flux, although it does involve some elements that are well-understood.

Which suggests that this might not just be a hardware-vs-software question: perhaps some portions remain in software while others get hardened. But do you end up with too many chips then? A sensor hub is supposed to keep calculations away from the AP. If done as hardware, that hub can be an FPGA (I can’t imagine an all-fixed-hardware hub in this stage of the game); if done in software, the hub can be a microcontroller. But if it’s a little of both hardware and software, do you need both the FPGA and the microcontroller?

Then there’s the issue of language. High-level algorithms start out abstract and get refined into runnable software in languages like C. Hardware, on the other hand, relies on languages like VHDL and Verilog – very different from software languages. Design methodologies are completely different as well. Converting software to optimal hardware automatically has long been a holy grail and remains out of reach. Making that conversion is easier than it used to be, and tools to help do exist, but it still requires a hardware guy to do the work. The dream of software guys creating hardware remains a dream.

There’s one even more insidious challenge implicit in this discussion: the fact that hardware and software guys all too often never connect. They live in different silos. They do their work during different portions of the overall system design phase. And hardware is expected to be rock solid; we’re more tolerant (unfortunately) of flaws in our software – simply because they’re “easy” to fix. So last-minute changes in hardware involve far whiter knuckles than do such out-the-door fixes in software.

This drama is all just starting to play out, and the outcome is far from clear. Will hardware show up and get voted right off the island? Or will it be incorporated into standard implementations? Will it depend on the application or who’s in charge? Who will the winners and losers be?

Gather the family around and bring some popcorn. I think it’s going to be a show worth watching.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Design Enablement and the Emergence of the Near Platform - Guest Blog by Peter Himes of Silex Microsystems

I am pleased to bring you this blog by Silex Microsystem’s Peter Himes, vice president marketing & strategic alliances. Peter reflects on MEMS and while other might lament at the conundrum of the uniqueness of all MEMS process (you can hum it to the tune initially coined by Jean Christophe Eloy of “one process, one product”) Peter instead sees opportunity. Through this challenge, Peter sees opportunity for innovation and collaboration. And what pleases me the most about his musings on MEMS is that the basic thesis that is my mantra:  “to succeed in MEMS, you can’t go at it alone – you must partner.” In this example he describes Silex’s partnership with A.M. Fitzgerald and Associates and their Rocket MEMS program. Read on, plug in and share your thoughts on how you’ve creatively sparked innovation in your own company; especially if you come up with the same reflection: in MEMS, it takes a village; you can’t go at it alone.

Design Enablement and the Emergence of the Near Platform

What does it mean to enable a MEMS design? Is it enough to have silicon wafers, a clean room and some tools? What bridges the idea to product?

Traditionally it has meant a series of trials based on past experiences on conceiving of a process flow which results in the final desired structure. What steps are possible? What materials can be used? How will it react to the process and how will it perform after all processing is done? All of these questions need to be understood simultaneously. Being able to do this consistently over many different projects is how Silex helps the most innovative MEMS companies get their ideas to high volume manufacturing.

But in markets where MEMS is becoming mainstream, where acceptance of MEMS technologies is encouraging traditional and non-traditional customers alike to consider their own MEMS programs, is this enough to enable the rapid growth of MEMS going forward? Is every MEMS device trapped in a paradigm of custom process development and new materials development? Does everything require MEMS PhD expertise to engineer a perfect solution? In a market where customers are looking for customized MEMS devices AND rapid time to market, can they have both?

The core of MEMS still lies in the custom process integration and the universe of MEMS devices is still expanding, pushed by the dark energy of innovation. Our SmartBlock™ approach to process integration is why we can execute on these challenges in a consistent and high quality way. But it still takes the time and effort of customized processes to achieve full production qualification, so we also believe that another model is possible, and we are beginning to see it emerge.

Process integration into a foundry environment is something we also call Design Enablement, because a successful MEMS process enables designs to be turned into an actual product. But the power of design enablement is somewhat muted if the echo only rings once. The true power of Design Enablement is when the process can resonate over many products or many redesigns of the same product. This would break the “one product, one process” paradigm and is what we believe is the next phase in the MEMS industry.

Alissa Fitzgerald of AMFitzgerald & Associates had a dilemma and an idea.  To her, the normal route for MEMS development was difficult from the start:  begin with an idea and use a university or research lab to get a prototype out.  Once it is successful, contact a production MEMS foundry to manufacture it - only to find out there are still months or years of process qualification ahead. What if she could collaborate with a foundry from the start and define a product design platform and a process flow simultaneously? Using known process capabilities of an existing foundry, build and characterize the product to that process, so that both the processing window and the product spec windows are defined simultaneously. Then you have a process platform that is solid, “de-risked,” and ready to take customers to market quickly.

This is the idea behind the AMFitzgerald RocketMEMS program and Silex’s support and partnership in the initiative. And it results in something which is not fully customized for each new product, yet is not completely and rigidly fixed either. Rather, it is a “Near Product Platform” made possible by the design enablement of the Silex process integration approach and AMFitzgerald’s product design framework and methodology. It allows for product specific variability without breaking the mold out of which the process was cast.

And it works.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Who's Driving the MEMS Evolution Revolution Now? (Part 3 of 3)

Who’s Driving the MEMS Evolution Revolution Now? (Part 3 of 3)

It is my pleasure to present the conclusion of the guest blog trilogy on the MEMS Evolution Revolution, written by my colleague, and long-time MEMS industry insider, Howard Wisniowski.  So far in this series, Howard has taken us with him to "visit" member companies Qualtré and WiSpry, taught us about bulk acoustic wave (BAW) solid state MEMS gyroscopes, radio frequency (RF) MEMS, and an innovative application called "Tunable Antennae."  In part three, we will be introduced to one of the many new MEMS-based technologies coming to the forefront, MEMS timing devices.  We will also take a look at Sand 9, another start up and MIG member that has developed a truly disruptive timing device.

I hope you are as excited as I was to read this the final installment to the series, and I welcome you share your stories of other MEMS start ups that are breaking out in their own markets.  Whether it be in agriculture or acoustics, healthcare or helicopters,  MEMS truly are everywhere and it’s likely the innovative smaller companies who will spread it further, faster and for longer.  Viva la Revolution!

Who’s Driving the MEMS Evolution Revolution Now?
Part 3
Howard Wisniowski, Freelance Editor

Although MEMS inertial sensors received most of the attention during the first and second waves of MEMS technology adoption in the 1990s and 2000s, many new MEMS-based technologies are going to be taking center stage during the current decade. Micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) timing devices are one good example.

MEMS Oscillators

MEMS-based oscillators are an emerging class of highly miniaturized, batch manufacturable timing devices that are more rugged, use less power and are more immune to electromagnetic interference than the well-established quartz-based oscillators. They also play an important role by enabling synchronicity and stable operation in complex electronic devices, from smartphones and tablets to industrial test and measurement systems and communications infrastructure equipment — for applications such as ethernet timing, network timing and cellular base stations. Users not only benefit from better performance in smaller geometries, these MEMS timing products can be integrated / co-packaged with standard semiconductor IC’s to enhance performance, simplify end system design, and optimize board real estate.

Sand 9 (Cambridge, MA), another startup and MIG member, has developed a MEMS timing-device platform that is truly disruptive. The company’s technology is the industry’s first to achieve the stringent phase noise and short-term stability performance requirements for wireless and wired applications where mobile devices are susceptible to malfunctions when a device is dropped and the quartz is dislodged. The spurious-free resonator design – which can enhance network efficiency due to reduced packet loss – can also result in fewer dropped calls. Mobile devices also can easily lose GPS lock and may drop calls due to the limitations of quartz. Also being addressed are earlier MEMS challenges including high power consumption, large phase noise, strong jitter, frequency jumps and strong spurious output. While previous solutions were OK for low-end timing solutions, they are less acceptable for precision timing requirements of 3G, 4G or GPS applications. Sand 9’s spurious-free resonator design can enhance network efficiency due to reduced packet loss – resulting in fewer dropped calls. Combined with high immunity to noise, shock and lead-free reflow temperatures, the Sand 9 high-precision platform also addresses temperature compensated crystal oscillator (TCXO) weaknesses that system designers have been forced to work around for decades.

From a process innovation standpoint, Sand 9 is developing piezoelectric MEMS products which are roughly 100x more efficient at converting electrical energy to mechanical and back to electrical energy again than electrostatic. This means better performance in smaller geometries while improving quality (no moving plates = no stiction). These developments are aimed at overcoming disadvantages of quartz-based devices that include manufacturing cost, longer procurement times, scalability and susceptibility to shock damage.

Industry watchers and analysts have taken notice. According to Semico Research, the MEMS oscillator market is still at a nascent stage, representing less than one percent of the total timing market of $6.3 billion.  By offering drop-in replacement – and technical benefits over established silicon quartz crystal timing devices – MEMS companies have already begun to capture market share from the legacy suppliers: quartz crystal manufacturers. According to their estimates, the global market for MEMS oscillators was $21.4 million in 2010 and is expected to reach $312 million by 2014, with consumer products representing nearly half of the market. With disruptive MEMS technologies like MEMS oscillators getting traction, the third wave of MEMS adoption is off and running.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Who’s Driving the MEMS Evolution Revolution? (Part 2 of 3)

I am pleased to bring you the second part of a three part series on the MEMS Evolution Revolution, written by my colleague, and long-time MEMS industry insider, Howard Wisniowski.  So far in this series, Howard has taken us with him to "visit" member company  Qualtré, and taught us about bulk acoustic wave (BAW) solid state MEMS gyroscopes.  In part 2, we will begin to learn about radio frequency (RF) MEMS, an innovative application called "Tunable Antennae," and a start up who is pioneering the advances of this new technology.

I hope you are as excited as I am to read this series, and I welcome you share your stories of other MEMS startups that are breaking out in their own markets, whether it be in agriculture or acoustics; healthcare or helicopters. MEMS truly is everywhere and it’s likely the innovative smaller companies who will spread it further, faster and for longer. Viva la Revolution!

Who’s Driving the MEMS Evolution Revolution Now?
Part 2 of 3
Howard Wisniowski, Freelance Editor
What’s most exciting about MEMS technology is watching how it is evolving. As a participant in the MEMS industry for over 15 years, I have witnessed much of the evolution and revolution take place. In Part 1, I highlighted an innovative and disruptive inertial MEMS technology referred to as bulk acoustic wave (BAW) technology. This new class of solid state stationary gyroscopes is opening up many new application possibilities by being able to meet the performance, size, cost, and reliability requirements for many emerging MEMS inertial sensor applications.
Part 2 focuses on radio frequency (RF) MEMS and a very innovative and disruptive application referred to as tunable antennae. It is hard to believe that one of the most important parts of a mobile phone is the antennae, which is very low-tech. With today’s smartphones that incorporate very sophisticated technology from gazillion-transistor CPUs controlling everything to state-of-the-art retina display on the front ends, the antennae for GSM, LTE, WiFi, and Bluetooth, are simply pieces of metal.

We all can recall when devout iPhone followers were outraged by the fact that an Apple device could be defeated when water-filled, fleshy fingers touched the metal antenna, it attenuated (weakened) the signal and resulted in dropped calls. The fact of the matter is that every smartphone has similar issues. Fortunately, for every mobile device maker, there’s an alternative to normal antennae: RF MEMS.

RF MEMS, as the name suggests, are semiconductor chips that can alter their physical (mechanical) state with the application of movable structures. When applied to an antenna, RF MEMS can be used to make antennae that automatically tune and re-tune themselves to both incoming and outgoing signals. For example, if one should put a finger on an RF MEMS antenna it can automatically re-tune itself so that no calls are dropped. What’s more, this is an emerging application where IHS iSuppli has reported that sales of RF MEMS devices are could reach $150 million by 2015.

RF MEMS Antenna Tuners

At WiSpry, a start up in Irvine, CA and another MIG member, they are pioneering advances in the field of tunable RF technology and addressing the emerging needs of modern smartphones.  Today’s smartphones have a number of radios to deal with — GSM, 3G, CDMA, W-CDMA, LTE, Bluetooth, WiFi, and even FM and TV radios in some cases. Each one has its own silicon circuitry and usually its own antenna too. Additionally, there are now a burgeoning number of frequency bands needing to be supported for 4G LTE cellular – ranging today from 700 Mhz to around 3700 Mhz. What’s more, the 3GPP standards are now allowing more than 43 different frequencies and there is an emerging demand for "Carrier Aggregation" in LTE – Advanced, the newest set of standards, which will have simultaneous "aggregation" of multiple frequencies on a single phone, allowing huge bandwidth improvements.

WiSpry’s RF MEMS-based antenna tuner technology will play pivotal roles in these advancements by potentially enabling devices with just a single antenna and transceiver. By reducing the number of necessary components in a handset while allowing the radio front-end to be programmed to work in any frequency band and with any radio standard using the same set of hardware, a "World-Phone" architecture is possible and truly disruptive. Finally, thanks to MEMS, the antennae on mobile devices will actually function more efficiently as they were initially intended – to carry and convey data and yes, even your phone calls.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Who's Driving The MEMS Evolution Revolution? Part 1 of 3

I am pleased to bring you part one of a three part series on the MEMS Evolution Revolution, written by my colleague, and long-time MEMS industry insider, Howard Wisniowski.  Howard takes us with him to "visit" three exciting MEMS startups that are breaking new ground in the mobile/consumer market.  In part one, we learn about bulk acoustic wave (BAW) solid state MEMS gyroscopes and meet MIG member company Qualtré.  In parts two and three, we journey to find out what companies are driving the MEMS evolution revolution with their exciting nascent disruptive technologies.  I hope you are as excited as I am to read this series and I welcome you share your stories of other MEMS startups that are breaking out in their own markets, whether it be in agriculture or acoustics; healthcare or helicopters.  MEMS truly is everywhere and it’s likely the innovative smaller companies who will spread it further, faster and for longer.  Viva la Revolution!

Who’s Driving the MEMS Evolution Revolution Now?
Part 1
Howard Wisniowski, Freelance Editor

Like the transistor and the microprocessor, MEMS are often described as a disruptive technology, as in change-the-world, turn-it-upside-down, rewrite-the-rules-of-the-game. You can forget about this kind of incremental change, however, fitting easily into corporate business plans. Few, if any, roadmap processes are available to accommodate new innovative disruptive technologies that either have the potential to radically change the way products are currently being produced or are the foundation for products that might create entirely new industries, nascent disruptive technologies. Within many established corporate environments, roadmaps all too often focus on sustaining existing technologies with a mature sales base and use variations of tried and true processes that exist in their fabs. Start-ups don’t have these types of investments enabling them to build on the shoulders of their predecessors and develop products that take a fresh look at what benefits product design engineers are seeking for new and existing end applications.

Today on the "revolution" side, the demand for MEMS technology is still booming, thanks to not only to the continued growth of high volume automotive and consumer applications where MEMS sensors have become mainstream, but also to the continued development of emerging applications in robotics, energy harvesting, and healthcare. On the "evolution" side, however, there are even more exciting and disruptive things going on with MEMS technology that is poised to drive the next wave of MEMS enabled products and applications. There are hundreds of companies, universities, and thousands of researchers around the globe working on MEMS projects. Many have the underlying technology that is well beyond the laboratory, ready for deployment, and are now seeking funding.

Highlighting this very active sector, Yole Development reports on the continuing growth of emerging MEMS products and applications. Alongside many of the old timers, their reports cite as many as 50 startups designing emerging MEMS devices that have the possibility to ramp up to large volumes quickly with growing access to contract foundries.  

Within this large field, several new “disruptive” MEMS devices will be highlighted in this three part series beginning with bulk acoustic wave (BAW) MEMS technology. This new and disruptive MEMS technology is now being applied to innovative MEMS gyroscopes. 

Bulk acoustic wave (BAW) solid state MEMS gyroscopes

According to analysts at IHS iSuppli, the MEMS gyroscope market displaced accelerometers as the revenue champion in consumer and mobile MEMS applications when revenue grew 66 percent from $394 million in 2010 to $655 million in 2011. While engineers now design systems that include MEMS gyros as essential components, particularly designers of mobile devices, suppliers are scrambling to meet their needs for low power, small size and low cost.

Qualtré, Inc. (Marlborough, MA) is one MEMS start-up and MIG member that is addressing these issues with an innovative MEMS technology referred to as bulk acoustic wave (BAW) technology. BAW technology is now being used to pioneer a new class of solid state stationary gyroscopes that not only meet power, size and cost requirements, but also add high performance to the mix. Unlike older MEMS gyro technologies that use moving masses vibrating at low frequency range of 5 to 50 kHz (I don’t want to get too technical here), BAW MEMS gyros operate in the megahertz frequency range (110MHz), several orders of magnitude higher. This is enabled by the very stiff nature of the BAW technology. This stiffness not only results in MEMS gyros that are insensitive to vibration in the environment but also prevents stiction both in manufacturing and during operation in the field, thus removing a major yield and reliability problem found with the vast majority of other MEMS devices. These features results in improved performance in real world applications where vibrations are present and degrade the operation of current gyros.

By combining these performance advantages of the BAW sensor design and the scalability of Qualtré’s proprietary HARPSS process (High Aspect-­Ratio Combined Poly and Single-­Crystal Silicon), BAW MEMS gyros have also demonstrated very stable signals (aka low drift) which is important for pedestrian navigation, improved noise density for better resolution and more accurate measurements, and a wider dynamic range that expands detectable signals. This kind of innovation is what will drive the next wave of end-product product designs for new and existing applications.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Karen’s blog from MEMS Executive Congress: Part 2

I last left you hanging, waiting to hear more about the heated conversations between the panelists and the audience – and I have to tell you, it really started heating up in the audience during the energy panel. Oooh baby, it was jumping.

MEMS Executive Congress Europe 2013MEMS in energy can mean a lot of things – and our panelists diverse perspectives discussed a great deal, but the majority of the audience wanted to focus on the topic of MEMS in energy harvesting. Though not necessarily experts in this field, thankfully our panelists were up to the challenge. Our moderator was Bert Gyselinckx, General Manager, Holst Centre, imec; Wim C. Sinke, Program Development Manager, Solar Energy, Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands; Eric Yeatman, Professor of Microengineering, Deputy Head of Department, Imperial College London; and Harry Zervos, Senior Technology Analyst, IDTechEx. I actually should probably add Rob Andosca of MicroGen Systems as a fifth panelist as he was eager to ask and answer any question from the audience with his BOLT energy harvester in hand.

I loved the diversity of perspective on this panel –Wim for example does not have an entirely MEMS-centric background. His expertise is in solar and photovoltaic energy and he spoke of how multiple technologies will work together to make reliable and sustainable energy system, as well as the importance of portfolio management – combining different energies in an active way to make it work. We in MEMS could learn a lot from guys like Wim (I hope everyone picked up his business card; I know I did).

The panel also spoke about wireless sensor networks and Harry gave a great overview of the three technologies that are converging: 1. Microgenerators and energy storage (vibration, solar, heat, tree resin, etc.); 2. Ultra low-power electronics (currently being developed) – helping power sensors; and 3. Transmission protocols that don’t need a lot of power to send data. Eric followed up with the poignant view that until things become truly wireless, you can’t really have wireless sensor networks. And once they are wireless how will they be powered – by energy harvesting or battery? This opened the floodgates and I, with microphone in hand had to jog all over the audience to capture the comments and follow-up questions from the audience.

Let me be diplomatic and say that there is no clear consensus out there on MEMS energy harvesting. And out came the very clever quotes including some of my favorites including this one from Wim: "Don’t look at MEMS as the energy harvesters, MEMS are the enablers to help realize energy savings." And this one from someone (maybe you’ll remember and leave a comment here): "I’m happy to hear everyone in MEMS talking about energy, but I can assure you that not everyone in energy is talking about MEMS...yet." And Bert’s: "MEMS will probably not be main source of energy replacing nuclear power plants soon; but MEMS will enable increased intelligence in energy applications." As great as these sound bytes were, the show stealer came when Rob Andosca stood up and talked about how cows are being used for energy harvesting and gave us the best quote: "You power the Moo-mometer with MEMS because cows get dirty." Tech-Eye reporter Tamlin Magee loved that one, too, and plans to write a story on – perhaps cow-power is the next big thing!

MEMS Executive Congress Europe 2013The last panel of the day before the closing keynote was MEMS in medical with a focus on aging moderated by Frank Bartels, Founder (Bartels Mikrotechnik), President (IVAM). Panelists were:  Heribert Baldus, Principal Scientist – Personal Health Solutions, Philips Research; Jérémie Bouchaud, Senior Principal Analyst, MEMS and Sensors, IHS iSuppli; Kimmo Saarela, CEO, TreLab Oy; and Axel Sigmund, National Contact Point MTI/DW and Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme, VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH. This was another diverse panel with varying views on how to address the medical and healthcare issues of the world’s aging population.

 When asked how MEMS is enabling a better quality of life with regard to prevention, monitoring, management, replacement and rehab I think Kimmo summed it up best when he said that with MEMS we can put so many things into a small form factor, which entices people to use our products. MEMS sensors allow us to collect raw data from so many sources. Data analysis is the key benefit and is their "value add" to the customer. But the key thing here is that power consumption and size really matter. Heribert added that MEMS is enabling an aging population to detect issues in their daily lives and manage their lives. I like to say it gives them their dignity back – and that is no trivial thing.

Jérémie spoke of some of the mass markets already present for MEMS in aging including sleep apnea disorders and oxygen therapy. There are also mass markets for MEMS medical applications that are in the hospital (not yet in the home) including disposable blood pressure monitors as well as dialysis and drug infusion applications. This kicked off a discussion about an aging population living at home which is becoming more of a critical issue in Europe, and a main focus of what Axel is addressing at VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik.

At the close, the panelists were asked what they saw as the future of medical – Heribert said he’d like to see more sensor integration, more intelligence and far less power. Jérémie said he sees a future for gas sensors analyzing the breath (and will not require FDA approval). Axel sees non-invasive diabetes monitoring as having the biggest impact; while Kimmo echoed Heribert and sees a future of more integrated solutions where biometric sensors will give more data and aid early detection and intervention. Frank agreed with Jérémie that gas sensors will be next once the pump issue is solved and that the time for microfluidics is near.

This final panel set things up perfectly for our closing keynote, Renzo dal Molin, Advanced Research Director, Cardiac Rhythm Management business unit, SORIN GROUP. Renzo gave the presentation "Vision for Implanted Medical Devices Healthcare Solutions and Technical Challenges," which outlined the opportunity for implantable medical devices. He described in detail how
MEMS Executive Congress Europe 2013
the next generation of medical devices will come from miniaturization of devices, reduction of power consumption, and wireless capability and yes, even spoke of energy harvesting (you can guess whose ears perked at that statement). Renzo then highlighted how the BioMEMS market is expected to grow from $1.9 B in 2012 to $6.6 B in 2018 thanks to the inclusion of accelerometers in pacemakers and homecare monitors; MEMS sensors for glucose meter connected to smartphones; MEMS microphones for hearing aids as well as MEMS insulin pumps.

The audience was excited to discuss where Renzo saw the future of BioMEMS going, and where he felt the industry should focus moving forward. Renzo agreed that in the near future (once regulatory hurdles were overcome) patients will be able to monitor their implantable devices on their mobile devices. And he felt the next big thing will be biomarkers, as well as MEMS-enabled devices that could give an ECG will be revolutionary to the medical field.

MEMS Executive Congress Europe 2013And with that it was time to break and enjoy a fantastic evening at the Heineken Experience. We took some photographs throughout the day but by far my favorites are the ones we took at the brewery – you should definitely check them out. I would like to close this mega-long blog by thanking everyone who made this second-year MEMS Executive Congress Europe a great success from my fabulous MIG Team, to the MIG Governing Council, to the Congress EU Steering Committee, to the AMAZING sponsors (especially those top tier ones who are sponsoring all year long – we love you), the keynotes, the speakers, the attendees (especially the press who attended and those who have posted great stories – hooray!), our fantastic conference organizers at PMMI, and our sister conference folks at Smart Systems Integration. THANK YOU ALL.