Preview of MEMS in Emerging Technologies Panel at MEMS Executive Congress US 2012

By Karen Lightman, managing director, MEMS Industry Group

Typically at MEMS Executive Congress, both US and Europe, we have panel topics that fit neatly into neat little packages like “MEMS in Consumer” or “MEMS Automotive.” This year in planning for our US event, our steering committee wanted to shake things up a bit to delve into what’s next for MEMS (beyond iPhone and Galaxy, Kinect, Kindle and name-that-new-and-exciting automotive safety or driver-assist application). After all, the theme of MEMS Executive Congress US is “MEMS is in the mainstream—so what’s next?” And what’s next is emerging technologies.

Our “MEMS in Emerging Technologies” panel will help to foretell what’s next. Staffed by experts who are at the forefront of emerging technologies in their respective fields, our panelists, these are the guys who are doing the “blue sky” thinking; they are tinkering in the lab and thinking the “what if” questions, and yes, they are doing it with MEMS. I am thrilled to have as panel moderator, Steve Whalley, director, Sensors, Intel Architecture Group, Intel Corporation.

Steve and I recently spoke about MEMS in Emerging Technologies and he gave me an introduction of our impressive panelists and a sneak peak into what the panelists will be discussing at MEMS Executive Congress US 2012.

Q: Steve – I am impressed by the combination of research and real-world experience of your panelists. Can you tell me more about who they are?

A: Jon Kindred is senior director of signals and systems, Starkey Laboratories. Jon provided technical and managerial leadership during Starkey’s ascent in becoming best in class in many significant signal-processing features.

Jon is joined by Hughes Metras, vice president, strategic partnerships, North America, CEA-LETI. Hughes has been involved in microelectronics, addressing power conversion for industrial, automotive and PV applications, and solid-state lighting, as well as sensor technologies for healthcare and environmental issues.

And last but certainly not least is Todd Miller, lab manager, MicroSystems and MicroFluidics, GE Global Research. Todd has focused on design and development of high-volume manufacturing devices and systems in safety-critical applications, with a concentration in system engineering, MEMS design and establishing design and quality control methodologies to support high-volume production.

Q. Thanks, Steve. Now let’s talk about some of the issues that you’re going to discuss with the panelists. For example, what are some emerging markets for MEMS – such as robotics, smart energy and healthcare? Are there application areas that we have scarcely imagined – or are the primary emerging application areas already on the table?

A: In automotive and now consumer electronics, MEMS has become mainstream. We’re getting the die size down, and it’s opening a lot of new areas where MEMS can go. Robotics, energy harvesting, healthcare – it’s really just the beginning. Everyone is talking about the Internet of things. That’s going to be exciting as we look at the social side of things. I can measure virtually anything – air quality, water quality, location, some basic health indicators, etc. This generates lots of sensor data. How do we manage it? Can the cloud and backend services handle it all?  These are big questions to answer.

Q: What are your thoughts on how MEMS will change the user experience in these emerging markets?

A:  Now with a simple laptop, tablet or smartphone, you can generate a lot of useful data to enrich your experience on these devices. I could check tone of voice for example to gauge whether I am feeling stressed or even the onset of a more serious condition. It’s continuous and real-time feedback that can proactively change our behaviors for the better or actions we take. But think about developing markets – these devices are becoming affordable to deploy for local and even personal usages such as monitoring air quality, water quality, etc. Even without big hospitals/clinics, one can put devices in the hands of people who can remotely upload data – so that doctors on the other side of the country or world can advise them. This will truly change the user experience and quality of life.

Q:  What do you think are the challenges to integration of emerging MEMS into new or existing products?  What do you need to make this process move more quickly and for less cost? What are the biggest hurdles in getting from lab to fab?

A:  This is the big one where standardization comes up. As we develop new types of devices – we need to scale across multiple geographies or applications. We need multiple suppliers. Some standardization of the process itself is needed so we can achieve manufacturing scale. We would love to see similar data sheets where people are measuring the same things, so that would help product manufacturers. The MEMS industry must work together – through organizations like MEMS Industry Group (MIG) – to bring different parts of the value chain together to identify and focus on the issues. We need industry organizations like MIG – to get everyone from the process to the product-shipping side to put laser focus on it. Although we may be competitors in some areas, it’s in all our interest to work on this together. When done right, it grows the market segment opportunities for everybody.

Q:  Steve, based on your personal experience, is the successful commercialization of MEMS products today more due to “market pull” or “technology push?”  

A: I think it’s usually a bit of both and it changes over the product life cycle. We saw a lot of push in the early days of automotive, military and industrial sectors to solve problems with MEMS in those industries. MEMS has evolved into game devices like Wii, PlayStation, Xbox where MEMS are innovatively used to enrich the user experience. Now we have MEMS and sensors in smartphones and tablets doing basic location and gestures, the industry will continue to innovate with even more usages we have not thought about yet. That creates market pull. I think we’ll see that continue, as new MEMS become lower cost and available in smaller form factors —pressure, humidity and biosensors for example.

At Intel, we are always about improving performance and lowering power consumption on platforms and MEMS devices can help with that while also enabling some truly appealing enhancements that give you the rich user experience.

Thank you, Steve. I am really looking forward to hearing more about MEMS in emerging technologies at MEMS Executive Congress US 2012 in Scottsdale (your neighborhood) in November!

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