Preview of MEMS in Consumer Products Panel at MEMS Executive Congress US 2012

By Karen Lightman, managing director, MEMS Industry Group

I remember the first time we had a panel on consumer MEMS products at MEMS Executive Congress. It was November 2006, Marlene Bourne was our moderator and our panelists were:  Frank Melzer (CEO of the newly formed Bosch Sensortec); Benedetto Vigna (back then his title was MEMS business unit director, STMicroelectronics); Mark Martin’s predecessor, Bill Giudice, vice president and general manager, Micromachined Products Division, Analog Devices; and Rick Thompson, manager, Advanced RF Technologies, BAE SYSTEMS.

Well, things sure have changed since then, haven’t they? In those days, we were all abuzz about the imminent release of the Nintendo Wii and the amazing impact of the Apple iPod. (The iPhone wouldn’t be announced for another two months.) Makes me smile when I think back at how simple and innocent the times were back then…

We’ve learned a lot over the past six years.  While most of the companies from the 2006 consumer panel are still active in MEMS (but only two of the panelists!), the Congress is now focused on hearing from end-users who are driving the market for MEMS. I am honored and truly delighted to have as this year’s moderator for “MEMS in Consumer Products,” my colleague Evgeni Gousev, senior director, Technology Development, Qualcomm MEMS Technologies, Inc.

I had the rare delight of discussing the panel topic over dinner with Evgeni when I was in the Bay Area a few weeks ago (for the MEMS workshop MIG did with BSAC). I scribbled my notes in between bites of a delicious, fresh California green salad to get a glimpse of what Evgeni will be discussing with panelists on the topic of MEMS in consumer products.

Q: Evgeni, I am impressed by the combined breadth of experience of your panelists. Can you give me a little background?

A: Sanjay Gupta recently left Motorola Mobility where he was vice president of product development. Sanjay has a successful track record of conceptualization, development, and commercialization of complex software and consumer electronics products; was a founding Board member of the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) and served on the Java Community Process (JCP), ME Executive Committee (EC); and led the standardization of GSM, GPRS and UMTS standards.

Dragan Mladenovic is director of business management for Maxim Integrated’s Sensor Division. Dragan has an extensive background in the semiconductor industry and has worked on the following projects: automotive airbag satellite sensors; automotive 77GHz radar (based on the SiGe technology); and eCompass (based on the TMR technology). Most recently Dragan has been involved in the 4 degrees of freedom (DoF) MEMS products for automotive safety applications (rollover, dynamic stability control) and 3DoF of 6DoF MEMS products for smartphones, tablets and wearable devices.

Will Turnage is vice president of technology and invention at the advertising agency, R/GA. Will is accountable for global technical product innovation and digital experimentation at R/GA; recent projects include Nike+ FuelBand. With a well-earned reputation as an industry thought leader, he has presented his unique perspective at events like SXSW, the Behance Network’s 99% Conference, and JSConf.

Q: Fantastic lineup of panelists who will give us very diverse perspectives on future markets for MEMS in consumer products! Now let’s talk about potential questions you’d like to ask these guys. For instance, what drives innovative applications, software and hardware in MEMS? How can companies add value to the MEMS supply chain?

A. Historically it’s always been the MEMS technology itself (the “tech push”) that has driven the innovation. But this has changed as the demand for consumer products has grown, and cost pressures have risen. Now we are seeing more “market pull”, or consumer demand for features enabled by MEMS, with increased opportunities for software integrators and designers to utilize MEMS as an enabling technology.

Because the consumer products’ market is mostly customer-driven, MEMS suppliers are typically delivering technology that is just “good enough.” But customers are demanding more, and OEMs are forced to respond in kind. MEMS suppliers are stepping up with sensor-fusion software that supports the MEMS within, to make it easier for OEMs to get what they want, and the application development community also has a role to play. The most successful companies have mobilized and connected to the user community to help develop some of the most creative and practical uses of their products. Their approach proves that you must have all the pieces together – cooperation between technology and the application folks from the very beginning.

For mobile devices, the main requirements are “good-enough technology” but also low cost and low power consumption. The industry is doing pretty well on two of the three, but one could argue that there still is room for improvement in other areas in the consumer products market – especially with respect to power consumption. There are still many untapped opportunities and markets for solutions like energy harvesting and other lower-power options for consumer products. MEMS can and will play a key role here.

Q. What are the macro societal trends that will drive demand for more consumer products with MEMS inside? What are the challenges?

A. Consumers are expecting – really – demanding MEMS-based solutions in their consumer products. That raises the bar even higher – to the degree that MEMS is expected in every next-generation consumer product. We need to think about what’s next and big and really revolutionary in the use and application of MEMS.

In the mobile space content that is context and location relevant due to advanced sensors are rich MEMS-based opportunities.  Monetization of digital content is only in its very formative stages and will grow exponentially when the content is more relevant to the time, environment and context to the content consumer.

It’s also a generational thing. Younger generations use and communicate via consumer products differently.  This has and will continue to raise the expectations for MEMS in consumer products. For example, augmented reality (AR) gets a lot of attention. Today we see AR applications gaming, media/advertising, and education. Futurists predict we will likely see AR in visual speech, navigation and discovery, and social networking.  With MEMS sensor data, adding connectivity and the cloud, the MEMS infrastructure is strong and will only grow as these macroeconomic trends evolve.

Thank you, Evgeni. I am really looking forward to hearing more about MEMS in Consumer Products at MEMS Executive Congress US 2012 in Scottsdale, AZ in November!

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