Category Archives: Consumer Electronics

MEMS at CES 2010: Pico projectors, low-power displays, hands-free user interface & more

There have been some really exciting announcements for the MEMS community coming out of CES 2010. Here are four that stuck out:

  • Microvision SHOWWXMicrovision is generating a lot of buzz with its SHOWWX™ Laser Pico Projector. Based on proprietary MEMS single scanning mirror technology, Microvision’s pico projector can turn a mobile device into a platform for projecting high-quality video.  And the best part is that the SHOWWX™ will be commercially available very soon in the US. More info is available on Microvision’s Displayground blog.
  • New accelerometers from STMicroelectronics – MEMS device maker STMicroelectronics is exhibiting its next generation of accelerometers. The new accelerometers’ main advantages include a smaller footprint, lower power consumption, and a host of feature enhancements.
  • Qualcomm’s mirasol® e-reader prototypeQualcomm MEMS Technologies (QMT) is demoing a prototype of an e-reader using its mirasol® display technology. What separates mirasol® from other display technologies is its use of available ambient light instead of standard backlighting. Bonus points to QMT for not only creating a highly-readable color display, but making it use less power too.
  • The hands-free user interfaceZyxio, which calls itself a human media interaction company, is touting its sensawaft™ technology that uses a MEMS sensor to translate human breaths into computer instructions. The company also held a “Be a Mind Blower” competition for people to imagine products incorporating sensawaft™ technology. The winners then get to work with Zyxio to develop their ideas into real products.
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Will 2010 be the year of the MEMS gyroscope?

Tech writer R. Colin Johnson thinks so and has laid out 5 apps that could push gyros into the limelight. Colin has been attending MEMS Executive Congress for a couple of years now, so it’s no surprise that some of the really cool MEMS apps discussed there have made it onto his list.

“Gyroscopes have already proved themselves in the inertial guidance systems for aircraft, ships, spacecraft and ballistic missiles, but their use in consumer devices in 2010 will make gyroscopes a part of the common vernacular.”

See the full list and the rest of Colin’s article here:

Colin also frequently writes about MEMS on NextGenLog, his blog about next generation electronics and technologies.

So what do you think, MEMSbloggers? What will 2010 have in store for MEMS?

MEMS Industry Group Goes to Japan!

Karen Lightman, Managing Director, MEMS Industry Group

Greetings from Exhibition Micromachine/MEMS 2009 at Tokyo Big Sight! I am blogging from the 15th annual International Micromachine Nanotech Symposium – MEMS World. I am very impressed with many things on my first trip to Japan. First off, the city of Tokyo is amazing – so full of energy – both of old culture and of new innovation. I have enjoyed experiencing the culture (especially the food!) and the hospitable, friendly people. I have been equally impressed with the energy and enthusiasm for MEMS in Japan.

Karen Lightman addressing the crowd at Exhibition MEMS/Micromachine

While the exhibition space of Exhibition Micromachine/MEMS 2009 is down (by 50% is what I’ve been told), the number of actual exhibitors and attendees is impressive – this is definitely the place to be for MEMS in Japan. I walked the show floor and was very pleased to see several MIG members either exhibiting and/or presenting, including: Coventor, EV Group, IVAM, Okmetic, Primaxx, SAES Getters, Silex, SUSS, and XACTIX. I also met with several potential new MIG members who are interested in expanding their presence in the US.

This morning, I had the honor of being a keynote in the Symposium’s morning session, where I presented on “Worldwide Growth Opportunities for MEMS: MIG’s Perspective on MEMS Activities in the US and Emerging Technologies.” My presentation is available in the member section of the MIG web site, in case you want to see what I talked about. I also had a chance to sit in on other presentations, including: Andre Rouzaud of CEA-LETI, Thomas Gessner of Fraunhofer ENAS, Toshihiro Ito of Japan’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Institute, Al Pisano of UC Berkeley/BSAC, and Markku Tilli of Okmetic. Generally, the presentations addressed the move to 200 mm, the importance of integration, cost pressures and expected growth areas of consumer and bio/medical.

Tomorrow’s agenda promises to be equally interesting and exciting, as I will attend the Japanese -German Micro/Nano business forum and I hope to blog again to tell you what I hear/experience. Last night I was treated to dinner by Kionix’s Junji Araya at an amazing classic Japanese restaurant (lots of great sashimi and tempura); right now I have to dash off to the cocktail party hosted by the Symposium organizers and then another promise to have a “true” Japanese experience/dinner – I wonder if they mean I’ll eat a live fish….

Is the electronic compass the next whiz-bang mobile device feature?

By St.J. Dixon-Warren and Rob Williamson, Chipworks, Inc.

With the new generation iPhone 3GS that was just announced, Apple is trying to stay ahead of the pack for smartphones. The new feature that captured our eyes is the electronic compass (also called a magnetometer.)  This is another example of a relatively simple technology being elegantly applied with a sophisticated software interface.

One of the leaders in the magnetometer space is MEMSIC, and while they did not win the iPhone socket (won by the AKM AK8973), they are a forerunners to get design wins as more electronics integrate this technology.

The target device discussed here is the Electronic Compass Board (ECB) evaluation module from MEMSIC (figure 1), and it contains both their novel thermal accelerometer and an electronic compass.

Figure 1: MEMSIC eval board

Figure 1: MEMSIC eval board

The creation of a MEMS magnet is almost a perfect example of elegant simplicity. Does anyone remember a book called, “101 Things a Boy Can Make” by author Arthur C Horth?  Somewhere, in the middle was a project for building an electromagnet using a screwdriver, some wire, and a battery. Many a young engineer did just such a project. Well, MEMSIC certainly didn’t build something quite that simple, but its engineers must have has a touch of nostalgia in taking a simple concept to a whole new level to meet the complex demands of hand-held devices.

One of these is the need to have it detect the earth’s magnetic field, regardless of what direction the device is being carried or used, since most consumers would not tolerate an application that forces them to hold the compass perfectly still and level. To achieve this MEMSIC has used three sensor chips, and simply ‘bent’ the circuit board to achieve the 3rd axis, as seen in figure 2. Despite this, the package is only 1.2mm thick.

Figure 2 – X-Ray of Magnetic Sensor

Figure 2 – X-Ray of Magnetic Sensor

Figure 2 – X-Ray of Magnetic Sensor

According to MEMSIC the magnetic sensors are anisotropic magnetoresistive (AMR) sensors.  They feature special resistors made of a permalloy thin film, which during manufacture are exposed to a strong magnetic field to orient the magnetic domains uni-directionally, establishing a magnetization vector.  An external field such as the earth’s makes the magnetization rotate, and this changes the film’s resistance.

The magnetoresistive sensors are arranged within a Wheatstone bridge circuit, so that the change in resistance is detected as a change in differential voltage, so that the strength of the applied magnetic field can be inferred.

A very strong external magnetic field could upset, or flip the polarity of the film, changing the sensor characteristics.  To allow for this a strong restoring magnetic field must be applied.  This is enabled on chip with a magnetically coupled strap.

A compass feature combined with inertial sensors promises to improve the dead reckoning capabilities of mobile devices, and reduce the energy drain caused by GPS.  It will be very interesting to see what new apps for the iPhone 3GS will appear, now that it will contain a true eCompass.

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