Karen’s blog from Smart Systems Integration 2012

By Karen Lightman, Managing Director, MEMS Industry Group

It was definitely a mix of adrenaline and my LOVE of MEMS Industry Group (MIG) that kept me going as I chaired and hosted the US MEMS Session on day one of SSI; because I was definitely tired after the previous day’s successful MEMS Executive Congress Europe. Or perhaps it was seeing the two fabulous keynotes that inspired me.

After an introduction by Professor Gessner of Fraunhofer ENAS, the ever-charming Carmelo Papa of STMicroelectronics gave a fantastic opening keynote; totally different from the one he gave the day. Carmelo later tweaked my nose when I told him that his SSI keynote was even better than the one he gave at the Congress EU. Some of the highlights of his keynote include an overview of ST’s pursuit of “More Moore and More than Moore.” His presentation was an inspiration for smart system integration and touched upon all facets of application from energy/industrial to consumer, to automotive to health/medical.

Then it was time for something completely different; a keynote by my dear friend and colleague, Cleo Cabuz, CTO for Honeywell Life Safety. Cleo’s keynote was on “Energy Safety and Security.” Cleo advocated for proactive safety, especially for the worker, as it’s a neglected industry. Honeywell is trying to bring safety into the digital age – with a digitally enabled site, workers and equipment (she gave example of Recon Instruments for hearing/vision augmentation). In the future she sees a workplace with real time information risk reduction rather than risk management (which is used now). The process that Honeywell Life Safety is advocating (and she represented so eloquently): prevention leads to mitigation leads to response – with the end goal being improved safety.  Well done, Cleo!

The afternoon US MEMS Session that I chaired at SSI was very well attended and our presence doubled the US attendance at SSI over the year before. I am very grateful for those who “jumped the pond” with me from the US to be a part of it. I kicked off the session by showing our MEMS in the Machine video, which demonstrates where MEMS can be found in a wide swath of applications and markets.  And having the dance music in the background doesn’t hurt, either.  I gave a quick overview of the MEMS industry/market and then honed in on what makes the US market so unique in MEMS. While the US might not be where a lot of MEMS is manufactured; it’s definitely a place where MEMS is designed, bought, sold and created. But only with a global supply chain can this balance of the MEMS ecosystem be sustained; so it was great to get the perspectives of my fellow MIG members to share their thoughts on MEMS and in particular, MEMS and smart systems integration.

Ed Brachocki of Kionix spoke of the challenges of sensor integration and described how sensor fusion is driven by the needs of Kionix’s customers –the creation of their scalable sensor fusion software library is a direct result of this. Another issue that their customers have come to them with is the desire for better power management, which is also provided by sensor fusion. Ed summarized that Kionix is trying to address these customer issues of sensor fusion by focusing less on the physics and more on the software side.

The next presentation by Stephane Gervais-Ducouret of Freescale was a perfect dovetail to Ed’s and in fact the two had discussed their presentations in advance – a perfect example of how MIG is a forum for neutral discussion advancing MEMS commercialization, as many would reckon that Freescale and Kionix are not partners but in fact, competitors. But when they are with me, they are good friends. Stephane showed how Xtrinsic is “smart from the start” and how they added gesture recognition along with low power, with a high level of embedded function, to create a sensor performance improvement (“power consumption and resolution by factor of merit”). Stephane lauded the advantages of intelligent sensor platform: reduce power; reduce data communication; aggregate data from different sensor-sensor fusion; continuous calibrating & monitoring of the sensors; enable customization of each sensor node through software; shorter software development time.

Stefan Hartmann of Epson Europe Electronics was up next and gave a great presentation on “Market Trends and Recent advances in Inertial Sensors Technology for Industrial and Automotive Applications.” I joked with Stefan that it was our first time meeting, as Epson was a relatively new member of MIG. He also joked back that Epson was relatively new in speaking about their role in MEMS, so it’s no wonder! His presentation, as well as all the presentations of all those who spoke at the US MEMS Session at SSI 2012 are available for download in the MIG Resource Library (only for MIG members). Stefan’s main message was that there are the main benefits to Epson’s gyro-sensors combo are that they provide lower power, are more stable and are smaller. He also described the value/need for these “perfect packages” of gyro-sensors especially for dead reckoning (when location really matters).

Alissa Fitzgerald of A.M. Fitzgerald and Associates started off by asking a rhetorical question of “Why is fracture important?” while showing the wing of a Swiss Airlines plane as it flew over the Alps. Yes, fracture is important when you are talking about safety. Fracture with respect to MEMS is important because it ensures reliability, performance, cost savings, and has implications for everything from foundry to etch/equipment tool selection. Fracture is important because you want to predict at what point a MEMS device will break. Alissa lamented that currently the industry now handles this by “over-designing” and guessing – the “build and break finished MEMS devices” and then do the math and statistics to better predict failure.  Alissa urged the audience that “no-one can afford to do this – we really need reliability prediction!” Then she totally geeked out on stress test data and lost me for a few minutes.

But no worries, soon it was time for our panel, so I jumped back on stage, took Alissa’s hand, grabbed Mark Martin from Analog Devices and Jim Knutti of Acuity to join me for a fireside chat-type panel discussion: “MEMS Sensor Fusion and Integration – Challenges and Opportunities.” I had jokingly asked the conference organizers for a nice Chardonnay to accompany our panel, as it was cocktail hour (5pm). But thankfully my fellow panelists and the audience Q&A kept the conversations lively enough.

Our main discussion was about sensor fusion – each of us sharing our thoughts on what and why it’s important. Mark Martin’s take on the topic was unique, as he kicked it up to more macro and global economic trends that are affecting the “sensor revolution” and the use of MEMS as a displacement technology. So it’s really about market pull that is fueling the growth of MEMS and sensor fusion. One of my favorite parts of the panel was when Alissa gave the contrarian viewpoint that the future may mean more MEMS (MEMS frickin’ everywhere) but likely not more “perfect MEMS” because of cost pressures.  In other words, “more cheap MEMS” everywhere.

Conversation started to heat up when we started talking about sensor fusion algorithms and user interfaces and how the future of MEMS will be “less about MEMS” as they become more commoditized; it’s going to be less about the MEMS itself but more about what the designers will enable the MEMS to do. That’s when Alissa said that the industry needs a “MEMS design cookbook” with more MEMS reference designs and Stephane nearly jumped up out of his seat to announce that Freescale had recently released its own open-source software for MEMS. That elicited a ton of excited whispering – which was fun to witness onstage as I literally saw lightbulbs go off over the heads of several attendees. GREAT STUFF. We ended the panel with predictions of future growth: HVAC/industrial, agriculture/water conservation and smart home were the top contendors.

Oh such fun and we were just getting started when it was 6:10 pm and time to go to the dinner at the Zurich Zoo…a big thanks to mycolleague/friend, Anna-Riikka Vuorikari-Antikainen of Okmetic, who sent me the highlights from the Zoo tour which pertained to MEMS: “Birds moving from Zurich to Africa and back – good navigation systems; Camels – saving energy (fat) in their back  – low power consumption; and Penguins – they could hear and recognize their spouse’s voice from all of others – good microphone systems.” Feel free to send me your thoughts on this blog, any other MEMS/animal connections and be sure to check out the Flickr photos I took from SSI 2012.

Thanks!

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