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.


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