Report from Hilton Head 2014 Solid State Sensors, Actuators and Microsystems Conference


By Eric Levy-Meyers on behalf of MEMS Industry Group

Greetings from the Hilton Head 2014 Solid State Sensors, Actuators and Microsystems Conference. On June 8, I attended the optional Sunday Workshop: Frontiers of Characterization and Metrology for Micro- and Nano-Systems organized by Michael Gaitan of National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and sponsored by MEMS Industry Group (MIG), who gathered a great group of speakers to address this topic.

NIST organized this session for the second time at Hilton Head. This program is designed to facilitate the process of improving the standardization of testing and standards that started at MIG’s Member-to-Member (M2M) Forum in 2010 and led to the NIST/MIG report “MEMS Testing Standards: A Path to Continued Innovation.” It was apparent from the interactions that the industry has realized that cooperation in the precompetitive space of testing and characterization must increase to allow the industry to grow and innovate.

At the Micro-Nano workshop at Hilton Head there were eight fascinating talks followed by a very lively panel discussion about the challenges and issues in MEMS characterization and testing. A few of the juicy conclusions are below. For all the details, be sure to subscribe to MEMSBlog so you can access later this week to get the whole report, which should be ready later this summer (free and available for anyone to download).

Key issues discussed include: 

  • Manufactures and users always find ways to use, and sometimes damage, MEMS devices in ways no designer or tester could predict. An example was a “blow out the birthday cake candles” Smart Phone application that had users blew into the microphone. Well, it took a while to link the app to damaged microphones (whoops).
  • Testers are not the bad guys – but they can deliver results people do not like to hear. But the faster people listen, the faster the devices can be fixed. In fact, “fail fast” can be a good approach to getting the best product out the door the fastest.
  • Since testing of MEMS devices leads to discovering novel failure modes, testing, failure analysis, manufacturing and design teams should be in close and continuous contact, especially in high volume systems.
  • The fact that customers always want devices that have more features and are faster, smaller and cheaper, leads to huge pressure on testing which never seems to have enough time to get ready for production.
  • New device types often require custom testing equipment and procedures, but over time, as these devices become more common, testing can be standardized.
  • It is easy to rely too much on tools instead of engineering intuition. There is no substitute for real world experience.

Calling all Innovators to Help Save Our Oceans


Guest Blog by Matt Huelsenbeck, Team Relations Manager, XPRIZE

A major problem facing the ocean is that air pollution is also ocean pollution. The surface ocean layer has become on average 30% more acidic since the Industrial Revolution due to the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These changes in ocean chemistry, dubbed ocean acidification, threaten many forms of marine life, fisheries, and other vital ocean services. But due to a lack of good tools to measure pH, there is little to no information on how ocean pH is changing on a regional level, or in places like the deep sea. We can’t tackle a problem we know so little about.

Therefore, the XPRIZE Foundation, the leading non-profit that’s solving the world’s Grand Challenges through large-scale incentivized prize competitions, is collaborating with ocean philanthropist Wendy Schmidt to offer $2 million dollars in prizes to address ocean acidification through the development of breakthrough pH sensor technology. The winning pH sensor(s) of the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE will be radically more accurate, durable, and affordable. This is where you come in.

We are looking for teams of innovators to compete in this once-in-a lifetime competition to help tackle the issue of ocean acidification! Would you or someone you know, be interested in forming or joining a team? Skills as diverse as electrical engineering, materials science, data science, nanotechnology and chemistry could be part of the winning team. Registration is open, but closing soon, and we encourage you to fill out the Intent to Compete form today. By submitting your intent to compete form, you can build or join a team made up of innovators like yourself.

There are two prize purses available (teams may compete for, and win, both purses):

$1,000,000 Accuracy award – Performance focused (First Place: $750,000, Second Place: $250,000): To the teams that navigate the entire competition to produce the most accurate, stable and precise pH sensors under a variety of tests.

$1,000,000 Affordability award – Cost and Use focused (First Place: $750,000, Second Place: $250,000): To the teams that produce the least expensive, easy-to-use, accurate, stable, and precise pH sensors under a variety of tests. 
This is your chance to apply your skills to help improve our understanding of one of the oceans greatest threats, ocean acidification, and win up to $2 million dollars in the process! We hope to see you compete.

MIG Conference Japan Wrap-Up

By Karen Lightman, Executive Director

I am finally over the jet lag and able to share my thoughts from MEMS Industry Group (MIG) Conference Japan, MIG’s inaugural conference in Asia that was held on April 24. But first let me quickly express my happiness to have returned to Japan after a three+ year hiatus. (My last visit was before the tsunami/earthquake.) I ate sushi every day, drank sake, partook of a Japanese bath and consumed green tea (in very large quantities). What a great place to visit.

A few months ago I invited you to spend a week with me in Japan, as there were several partner events that dovetailed with our MIG conference, including the NanoMicro Biz ROBOTECH and MEMS Engineer Forum. On April 23 I traveled to Yokohama to give a keynote at NanoMicro Biz’s 20th annual International Micromachine/Nanotech Symposium.

The conference had been relocated to Yokohama, an impressive “city by the bay” that is only a 30-minute train ride from Tokyo. And while the exhibition site was smaller than previous years, the Symposium was still impressive, and my presentation on “MEMS and Sensor Trends, Paving the Way for the Internet of Things” was well received by a diverse and international audience. I also had the opportunity to represent MIG in our booth and sneak in a few MIG-branded chocolates created for us by the conference organizers (yum) as well as connect with several MIG members and partners in attendance.  

Then it was back to Tokyo to kick off MIG Conference Japan with MIG Events and Program Manager Chivonne Hyppolite. Simply put, the conference exceeded expectations in terms of quality/number of attendees as well as content. I am grateful for the guidance and support MIG received from Mr. Susumu Kaminaga of SKG Partners and Mr. Yoshio Sekiguchi of OMRON; without them, there is no way that the conference would have happened let alone be successful.

What excited me the most about MIG Conference Japan was the originality of the content provided by our keynotes and featured speakers. (Here is the agenda.) The focus of the conference was on navigating the challenges of the global MEMS supply chain. Several of the speakers gave their no-holds-barred view of these challenges, including the keynote from Sony Communications, Takeshi Ito, Chief Technology Officer, Head of Technology, Sony Mobile Communications. Mr. Ito’s shared his thoughts on the future of MEMS and sensors (and in particular, alternative uses for acoustic MEMS), which I found very interesting, and I truly appreciated his end-user/OEM perspective.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the presentation by Leopold Beer, regional president Asia Pacific, BOSCH Sensortec, who explored the criticality of balancing higher integration and rapid product cycles with the need to support multiple applications.

Honestly all the presentations at MIG Conference Japan were impressive, and I am not going to do a play-by-play here for you. (Sorry folks.) But what I will do is urge you to consider attending our next big event in Asia: MIG Conference Shanghai, which will be held September 11-12, 2014 in Shanghai in in partnership with Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology (SIMIT) and Shanghai Industrial µTechnology Research Institute (SITRI).

Our Shanghai event will be more focused on the theme of the Internet of Things/Services/Everything as well as the challenges of a global MEMS supply chain. Please join me there to further explore the future of MEMS and sensors. For more information, you can visit our website.  

Bulbs Need Intelligent Lighting Systems

Guest blog from Semico Research

There are over 3,000 companies making LED bulbs.  Regionally, there are countries like China that have 5-year plans which foster the development of leading SSL manufacturing firms while pushing LED lighting on the market.  How many light bulbs do you have in your house?  How many are LED?  How many lights at your workplace? On the streets and freeways?

If you thought the sensor market was large before, with smartphones and fitness trackers, imagine all the sensors and controls that could go into lighting sources and outlets, with the intent of monitoring behavior and finding trends in order to predict how and where our lighting should be installed.

With MEMS, the entire smart home may have sensors.  For example, your walls may have accelerometers built in to help predict and recover from earthquakes.  Bulbs may make use of a MEMS microphone to help determine lighting needs.  As the price of MEMS sensors continues to decline, manufactures should turn their eye to this market.

For example, imagine having the majority of your ceiling be comprised of multiple types of lights, all of which can automatically be adjusted depending on your behavior.  This is important for the home theater system, where in order to play a movie, the screen must be lowered, the system turned on, the curtains closed, etc.  But, with smart lighting controls, the mere act of sitting down on the couch at a particular time of the day could trigger all those other actions automatically with the lights adjusted accordingly.  How can MEMS contribute?

Perhaps even more useful, intelligent lighting can sense commands from other lighting sources without the use of a wired connection.  This effectively creates a 3D map of your environment with the lighting system at the head of it.  No more automatic lights that rely on gestures in order to stay on.  The lighting system of the future will know if there are living creatures in the room or not.  This isn’t far out in the future either, we’re looking at this technology now, and at the point where manufacturing and deployment must work together.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 86% of all lighting in residential markets currently have no control system, and 70% of all commercial lighting have no controls.  The market penetration rate is so small, and the potential so large, this is a market you should be keeping an eye on.  That is why Semico is hosting a Smart Lighting Event on April 23rd in Santa Clara to discuss deployment trends and what opportunities and barriers to entry we have to look forward to.  Semico’s CTO, Tony Massimini will be discussing, in particular, how MEMS manufacturers can build a niche within the Smart Lighting market.  Join us and register here.

Next-gen RF MEMS Switch for a Smarter, Faster Internet of Things

By Karen Lightman, Executive Director
Originally appeared on GE Global Research, March 28, 2014

Big Data. Internet of Things. Quantified Self. Connected Home. Connected City. These buzzwords are pretty much everywhere (unless you live under a rock or up a tree), and many of us are excited about the possibilities of connecting to data in intelligent ways that improve our everyday quality of life.

Micro-electromechanical Systems (MEMS) and sensor networks give us access to a more connected and quantified world by making “big data from little data.” (ARM CTO Mike Muller explored the topic at a recent MEMS Industry Group conference held at the 2014 International CES). But what if those little and then big bits of data can’t get out? What if they are stuck on the ever-clogged and expanding Internet Highway? How will I be able to quantify myself and analyze my sleep, eating and exercise habits if the data just stays put on my wearable device? What good will come from all this data then?

The simple answer is that it will be NO GOOD unless the data is conveyed via a robust connection with strong signal quality. A strong “data backbone” ensures that the little data can be quickly and seamlessly combined with other little data, then scrubbed and polished through algorithms to create big data that helps make smart decisions — fast. Sometimes these decisions might be as simple as “get off your butt, Karen. You’ve only walked 2,000 steps today” or it might be as complicated as a sensing microsystems that senses, switches, monitors and makes real time decisions on board planes flying overhead to industrial or healthcare monitoring and diagnostics here on the ground warning system for a jet engine turbine that has struck a flock of birds.

The bottom line is that all the fancy MEMS- and sensor-enabled gadgets in the world won’t reach their potential of truly creating an Internet of Things unless the data itself gets to its destination quickly, safely and efficiently. That’s why I became super excited to hear of GE’s RF MEMS switch that promises to enable increased data transfer speeds, enhanced signal quality, and longer battery life.

The RF MEMS switches developed by the folks at the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, NY use a unique material set and proprietary metal MEMS process developed at GE Global Research. This is breakthrough science, to be quite honest; and I am can’t wait to see this technology realized in future mobile devices. LTE-Advanced (also called “true 4G”) is already common in several spots in Asia and is expected to become the benchmark for mobile communications worldwide. GE’s RF MEMS technology will create that backbone, to enable the building of big data from little data on this new level of mobile communications.

In 2012, I had the pleasure of visiting the research center in beautiful Niskayuna. (It was in July not in the winter, mind you.) I learned all about GE’s new class of devices (including the switch) and am excited to see what breakthroughs will be coming from GE in the future.  I also got to dress up in the bunny suit and take a tour of their amazing MEMS foundry. (Read more about my visit by reading my blog.)

It is gratifying to see now that technology making its way into the market, with its promise to span numerous applications — across consumer to commercial and industrial products. I personally can’t wait to have my mobile device with the GE RF MEMS switch, truly enabling a smart and fast Internet of Things.