A Day without MEMS

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


MEMS devices are everywhere. They have permeated almost every aspect of our lives, forever altering our interaction with our digital environment. Unknowingly, we take them for granted. But what would happen if this tiny, robust, quiet, virtually invisible workhorse suddenly disappeared? Would we notice?

I wake up to the cacophonous sound of my children mutinying. The MEMS gyros in their video game controllers are defunct, so they can’t play Wii Dance Party or Super Mario Brothers. Normally, my BodyMedia LINK Armband registers my sleep—and can monitor my heart rate to show if it is soaring due to stress, or something good for me, like running, but my armband is dead in the water so I am forced to gauge my sleep deprivation and heart rate without any electronic support. I have a feeling that this going to be a really long day.

I check my smartphone for the weather report so I know what to expect for the day, but without the MEMS accelerometer for orientation, my screen constantly shifts between landscape and portrait, leaving me even more irritated. I’m late for an important meeting, so I jump into my car and program the GPS, which, without its MEMS-based inertial navigation system, makes location awareness totally unreliable. Looks like I am going to have to get out the map, if I even still have one in the glove compartment.

Did I mention that I’m late for my friend’s surprise 40th birthday party and I’m in charge of taking the photographs? But without those amazing accelerometers giving me image stabilization on my digital camera, my images will surely be blurry. MEMS, where are you?

I have a “Eureka” moment. I could try to upload the photos to my MacBook and fix them there, but when I dropped my MacBook this morning, without the MEMS accelerometer to detect the drop and then freeze my flash drive, I have lost the ability to turn on my constant companion. Foiled again.

My nose twitches, and soon I am convulsed by violent sneezing. I think I forgot to take my allergy medication this morning…whoops. My Proteus Digital Health feedback system—which uses a MEMS sensor the size of a grain of sand to detect my medication and record when it was taken—is clearly not working either!

What’s next?

Will I need to program reminders in my smartphone’s calendar to tell me that I should take my pill?! I am feeling just one step away from using a paper pocket-calendar like my 75-year-old mother does, and it is freaking me out (no offense, Mom).

Maybe I can find some solace in my brand-new luxury SUV. A smooth ride with some great music might be the ticket. As I cruise the twists and turns of rush hour, I probably should not think about how much less responsive and accurate my airbag crash sensors are without MEMS accelerometers. Or that my side-impact airbags do not even exist without MEMS.  That weather report I was looking for earlier would have alerted me to the sleet and snow that’s now on the road.

Hope I don’t need those MEMS-based stability control system to get me out of a hydroplane or skid. As I become more fraught with worry, I check my dashboard to view my tire pressure monitor. What a surprise. The MEMS pressure sensors in my tire pressure monitoring system aren’t functioning. Do I have 30 psi or do I have 3?

I call my husband for some positive reinforcement. I also need him to pick up a roast chicken, but that’s another story, for another blog. I try to use the speaker on my iPhone but the MEMS microphones are kaput so I probably sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher to him. There is no point in attempting an actual conversation. I feel so alone with all my MEMS helping me through my day.

I guess I will stop at my favorite coffee shop for a latte. Unfortunately, it’s located on a really steep hill, and without my low-g MEMS accelerometer for my parking brake, I am not sure I totally trust my car’s MEMS-based anti-rollover system.  And even if I do go get that coffee, without those same low-g sensors for antitheft, I might not know if my car is being stolen. Maybe the coffee is not worth it after all.

Only two hours into my day and I am already grateful to the MEMS devices quietly at work in all aspects of my life. Thank you, MEMS! I hereby declare it the first annual MEMS Appreciation Day (instituted by MEMS Industry Group, of course). Don’t doubt I will do it. The t-shirts and buttons are already on order.


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