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.