MEMS: An Enabler of the Next Internet Revolution

Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and sensor fusion will play a critical role in enabling a more intelligent and intuitive Internet of Things (IoT)—one that will revolutionize the consumer space forever. The MEMS and sensor technology is here today and now is the time to harness it for your products and position yourself for this exciting future. I encourage you to read on and learn about some great examples of MEMS enabling IoT.

-Karen Lightman, Executive Director, MEMS Industry Group


MEMS: An Enabler of the Next Internet Revolution

Written by: Howard Wisniowski, President of HW Marketing Group.

The next internet revolution is shaping up and MEMS is poised to play an important role. Commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) or Machine to Machine (M2M) communications, this revolution consists primarily of machines talking to one another, with computer-connected humans observing, analyzing and acting upon the resulting ‘big data’ explosion it produces. While the first internet/web revolution changed the world profoundly, the disruptive nature of MEMS, M2M and the Internet of Things has the potential to change it even more as the big data machine will no longer be dependent on human data entry. The internet traffic will be automatically generated by millions of ‘things’ from which we can retool large parts of the world for better efficiency, security and environmental responsibility.

The enabling qualities of MEMS sensors quickly come to mind since they are increasingly becoming cheap, plentiful and can communicate, either directly with the internet or with internet-connected devices. Almost anything to which you can attach a sensor — a football helmet, an automobile, a smartphone, a cow in a field, a container on a cargo vessel, the air-conditioning unit in your office, a lamppost in the street — can become a node in the Internet of Things. Be it on location, altitude, velocity, temperature, illumination, motion, power, humidity, blood sugar, air quality, soil moisture… you name it, MEMS-based sensors will play an important role in gathering and/or disseminating data from millions of devices.

Deeper into the signal chain, however, is another class of MEMS devices that is evolving and will have a profound impact. At the heart of all the “connected” devices will be a component that provides the timing that enables all communication to occur.

In the past, timing components have typically been manufactured from quartz crystals, a nearly century-old technology unsuitable for integration into small, low power connectivity ICs. In contrast, a new generation of MEMS timing devices are appearing and are offered by companies such as Sand 9Silicon Labs, IDT, and SiTime. Major advantages of MEMS timing devices include vibration immunity, shock resistance, power supply noise immunity, small package dimensions, and reliable operation at high sustained temperatures. Additionally, sourcing MEMS timing devices is significantly easier that quartz. Leadtimes are shorter, the ability to react to sudden upside is much faster, and the ability to leverage semiconductor batch manufacturing enables cost benefits as volumes scale.

For the IoT market, small size is a key factor. New timing devices are now available in ultra-small WLCSPs and can be co-packaged with Bluetooth Smart ICs. An example of this is Sand 9’s MEMS resonators. Rugged, simplified Bluetooth Smart SiPs with the smallest dimensions and lowest power requirements are one of the factors driving Bluetooth adoption and IoT growth by enabling applications such as new industrial designs for wearable devices and tags.  With an ever increasing number of Bluetooth devices able to connect wirelessly, both the ecosystem and each device in it will increase in value and usefulness.

Speaking of smaller size, zero operate power, and higher performance, another MEMS technology is emerging that will also impact product designs serving the IoT trends. MEMS switches are now being introduced that require no power to switch while robust enough to  handle 300mW of ‘carry power’ performing as a sensor, high carry current switch or both. Announced earlier this year, Coto Technology’s RedRock™ MEMS-based magnetic reed switch is the latest example and is currently the world’s smallest single-pole, single throw (SPST) switch at only 2-by-1 millimeter (with an even smaller one on the way). It is activated or closed by a magnetic field of less than 25 milliTeslas while being highly directional, making it virtually immune to stray magnetic fields. Applications that benefit include ultra-small hearing aids, implantable insulin pumps, capsule endoscopes in-a-pill, and even devices that track birds, land animals and sharks off the coast of Chatham Massachusetts, all products connected for data logging and programming.

There’s many exciting market possibilities for MEMS-based products in the emerging world of the Internet of Things as products become smaller, increase in capability and machine-to-machine communication grows in importance. I’ve only touched the surface and I’m sure there are many more examples in this continually evolving landscape as suppliers continue to roll out products with greater capabilities and enable applications that were not possible before.

Who is next?  Share your thoughts.

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