By Karen Lightman, managing director, MEMS Industry Group
This is part two of my blog from BSAC’s 2011 Fall Thrust Session celebrating BSAC’s 25 years. The presentations and my notes from both sections can be found on the MIG website. MIG members have full access; as well as those who registered/attended (and if you ask really nicely I might say yes, just try me).
After a well-attended BSAC faculty poster session, we went back into the auditorium which was pretty decently filled in the morning session and now had standing room only (fire codes were not violated, but we were darned close). John Huggins, the Executive Director of BSAC was the MC and then quickly turned the mic over to Al Pisano, one of my favorite guys in MEMS (really it’s true).
Al gave an overview of BSAC’s 25 years and made the simple observation that it’s truly not common for a research center to last 25 years. He then presented his revisionist history of BSAC and its five generations of leadership. It’s really impressive that several of the top guys (and I do mean guys here – the only thing missing is a FEMALE Director, but I digress…) of BSAC are still around and active: Dick White, Richard Muller and Alex Schwartzkopf. Impressive. Al then overviewed the funding model that supports BSAC’s $15M budget: a Federal-University-Industry Research/Funding “Helix” that supports and feeds itself as a sustainable model. It not only sustains itself, but it has a good record of spinning out companies – see the list on BSAC website (including MIG founding company, XACTIX).
Next up was industrial partner, Tim Denison of Medtronic. I was mesmerized by his presentation of how Medtronic is using MEMS (and lots of other really cool stuff) to enable neural implants to help with stimulation for tremor victims (stroke, Parkinson’s, bad hangover – just kidding). He overviewed the many applications for advanced neural interfacing – commercial and in development. First he showed the impact on humans (really amazing video of a guy before and after the neural implant) and then when he started “looking forward to the future” I have to admit I got a little uncomfortable as he talked about doing this stuff on animals (monkey, sheep….). I did eat a vegetarian meal that night as homage to the poor little guys who donated (unwittingly) their bodies to science. But I digress…
Then it was time for my eyes glaze over when Ali Javey gave a presentation on the “Future of Electronics.” While I was able to follow some of his talk, as soon as he started showing calculations of nanomaterials I stopped taking notes. All I can report is that BSAC is doing some darned cool stuff that someday will be able to reduce power consumption along with other great stuff, I think…
Kris Pister, founder of Dust Networks and director at BSAC, took the stage to wow everyone with his work and research in smart sensor networks and the challenges and paybacks for wireless networks. I loved that he stated the reason he’s doing smart dust (instead of his first love, micro-robots) is “Ken Gabriel’s fault.” Apparently Ken (as DARPA’s first MTO Program Manager) said he loved the smart micro-robots but he’d never fund it – so then Kris refocused and submitted to DARPA (when Al Pisano was the DARPA MTO Program Manager) and received the funds and started “taking pictures on really big pennies” next to his chips. Kris then came up with his list of challenges and paybacks – the main challenge is that you have to understand the market, not just have your technology that would work in the real world. Yup.
Though Kris is a tough act to follow, Clark Nguyen did a fantastic job (didn’t know he was so entertaining in front a live studio audience) with his presentation: Mechanical Radios? And yes the “?” is intentional. He basically stated that to be at BSAC doing great work that is 20-years out, it has to be “crazy stupid” not just “crazy.” I love it. Then he went to prove that a mechanical radio IS achievable (in 20 years) and that he’s failed, because while it’s crazy, it’s not crazy stupid. Well, Clark, time will tell and in my book, you are a fantastic success already.
Then after the break I had the pleasure and honor to introduce Vijay Ullal the Group President for Maxim Integrated Product’s Handheld Products Divison. Vijay wowed me when he gave the closing keynote at Sensors Expo Chicago and he managed to wow me even more at the BSAC event. I was especially interested in his take on the merging of gyros/accelerometers as the top leaders are converging (and Maxim’s recent acquisition of Sensor Dynamics is a good indication). Vijay’s presentation can be summarized by one statement: “I’ve seen the future and it’s integrated sensors.”
Following Vjiay was another proud MIG member, Rick Oden, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff for TI’s DLP Division. Rick did a FANTASTIC job of overviewing the DLP’s development and performance – once they got it right (it took a ong time in case you didn’t already know that). He discussed the mainstreaming of MEMS – lessons learned. KEY FACTORS of success: have a clear marketing plan; that diversity is a valued perspective when planning a technology direction; and one must keep a careful eye on the customer; discipline matters (be focused in how you are busy); reasonable feedback of information to the development team (it’s an iterative process); and lastly, maturation. “Where do you have to spend your time?” MEMS packaging – it’s not glamorous but it’s gotta get done. Amen, brother.
The closing session was an entertaining panelists of BSAC alumni, moderated by BSAC director: Richard Muller; panelists were IARPA’s Dennis Polla; Cornell University’s Amit Lal, and ADI’s Mike Judy. They all gave their different perspectives on “wild and crazy MEMS.” I really loved Amit Lal’s creative and fun graph of “achievability * coolness” – anything MEMS is cool (world peace is very cool but not achievable) – computers that think is very cool but achievability is very low (as well as quantum computing). But if you look at MEMS – it’s in the middle of coolness and achievability (achievability within 5-6 years) – z axis is “impact” – how to achieve impact. I agree, MEMS is cool and achievable. On a last note I encourage you view this fun video made by BSAC students in celebration of BSAC’s 25th anniversary: Attack on BSAC, the Musical (links to preview).