MEMS, iPhone mics, and impressive growth

By Karen Lightman, Managing Director, MEMS Industry Group
Originally posted on EE Times

 

The MEMS industry saw double-digit growth in 2012, is now valued at more than $10 billion by Yole Développement, and is on track to double in market value by 2015. Let’s examine the drivers of this impressive ramp.

First off,  2012 was the year of “Yes! I can finally hear you and you can hear me, too.” Thanks to MEMS, fuzzy cell phone conversations and dropped calls will soon be a thing of the past. It started at CES 2012 with the teardown of Samsung’s Focus Flash Windows smartphone, revealing WiSpry’s  RF MEMS inside.

This was a historic moment for not just WiSpry but for RF MEMS, as it was the first example of RF MEMS in a commercially available consumer product. History continued to be written and revealed through teardowns.

Jeremie Bouchaud of IHS iSuppli disclosed at the MEMS Executive Congress US that the Apple iPhone 5 uses three MEMS mics in the phone, plus a fourth one in the headset. You can read my earlier blog on “making beautiful music” with Analog Devices MEMS mics — one of four suppliers for iPhone 5 — to better understand the technology behind the ‘smart-quality’ sound achieved through MEMS mics.

The convergence of consumer and medical applications, enabled by MEMS technology, marked another landmark moment in 2012. The explosion of health-focused apps shows that consumers are fascinated with tracking their health through their mobile devices.

In the past, much of what’s been offered has been overly bulky or annoyingly unreliable. Some of the apps are just plain crap (like the pedometers that you can fool into “thinking” you are walking by simply waving them back and forth).

Thankfully, in 2012, a bevy of products emerged, all with MEMS inside to help us live healthier lives. BodyMedia’s products let you ((http://www.bodymedia.com/ )) monitor caloric intake and real calories burned, making it easier to lo lose weight. Offering another wearable device,

LUMOback’s MEMS-based ‘belt’ helps you to improve your sitting and standing posture, in order to reduce or eliminate back pain. These are just a few examples of the MEMS-enabled, life-improving that give consumers the power to manage and control and improve their own health and quality of life. I predict that in 2013+ we’ll see even more in this area. These are some of the reasons why I LOVE MEMS!

Some of the other big wins for MEMS including the rise of “sensor fusion,” where MEMS and sensors are intelligently integrated with software algorithms to improve performance and reduce power consumption. In some cases, it’s the MEMS device-makers that are bundling this “special sauce” with the sale of their MEMS chips (Bosch Sensortec, Freescale, Kionix and InvenSense, to name a few). In others, we also saw the rise of a few stars such as Movea, Xsens, Hillcrest Labs and Sensor Platforms.

This new category of MEMS company has been around for a few years, but their stars started twinkling in 2012 and I doubt their shine will diminish. In fact, I think the next few years will be heralded as the year of “MEMS algorithms” – where we’ll be able to take MEMS to an entirely new level of ‘smart’ with even smarter software.

I’d also like to note that, in 2012, the MEMS Industry Group, of which I’m managing director, made history by enabling our 140+ member companies to create and edit a document to standardize sensor- and MEMS performance definitions. MEMS is infamous for its lack of standards. So this humble document is a step in the right direction as we head towards my dream of MEMS total ubiquity. In my heart of hearts, I like to call it “MEMS total world domination,” but that’s a story for another column.

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