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Date: 01-06-14

MEMS applications: It's just the beginning, lot of space to explore

Mems expert ST Microelectronics is shipping billions of mems sensors each year, and is the first company which has generated a revenue exceeding US dollar 1 billion from mems alone. The reason for such a huge growth is due to the use of mems in consumer electronic devices such as smart phones and also widely used in cars. Though mems is seeing a big growth from last 4 to 5 years, it looks like the growth has just begun, and in the future, there is going to be much more growth driven by the expansion of mems usage in lot more applications.

To give you an idea of what exact applications are driving the market now, in this article we provide the kind of applications and the devices integrating mems inside them. Much of this writing is based on the recent presentation made to the media by ST's mems expert Vishal Goyal, Senior Technical Marketing Manager, Analog, MEMS & Sensors Group STMicroelectronics in Bangalore.

Mobile devices:
The biggest market for mems is smart phones which uses accelerometer, gyroscopes in most of the smart phones. Mems microphone, pressure sensors and compass are also used in today's latest phones.

Today's mems-based technology integrated in a phone can turn your phone into a gesture device, a tennis bat or any such motion dependent action device. The user can know the height from the sea level, see environment conditions in the smart phone.

Mems in wearable devices such as fitness wristbands can help in tracking motion related actions of the user.

Automotive electronics:
when it comes to vehicles, it's all about controlling motions. Mems is getting integrated more and more inside the car so that every aspect of motion control becomes smart.

Example on the latest use of mems in automotive technology is, mems devices can sense whether the vehicle is in incline/decline slope and also sense the acceleration pattern of the driver and adjust the engine power accordingly. The owner of the vehicle can get the data from the car if the car is driven rashly by the driver.

Another interesting example is, if the vehicle is going inside a tunnel or inside a closed parking-lot or someplace where GPS signal is not available, the mems devices take the coordinate references from the lost connected GPS and provide the driver with the GPS data undisturbed.

Mems-based pico projectors: This is another big market for MEMS, where the future phones gets fitted with pico projectors due to advancing mems technology.

IOT: mems, processor and a Bluetooth/ZigBee radio in a chip is becoming popular for remotely monitoring/controlling various motion related activities from the Internet.

To give you two other interesting examples of applications designed using mems:

MEMS sensor development by ST Micro helps in detecting eye disease. MEMS sensor helps measure intraocular pressure (IOP) of eyes to detect the eye disease called glaucoma, which is often associated with increased pressure of fluid in the eye. This MEMS sensor from ST is integrated inside a contact lens type of device developed by Sensimed AG.

MEMS and MCU chips from STMicroelectronics are used in an airbag fitted helmet which can be placed in a collar so that the helmet is nearly invisible. Whenever the shock is sensed by MEMS accelerometers they send the signal to MCU to release the airbag covering the head of the bike rider. The innovative helmet is designed by a company called Hövding.

On the future opportunities in the mems Vishal said "we just started scratching the surface".

What MEMS basically does is, it senses motion by consuming very less power and very less space. Motion can be direct or through motion energy generated by other transducer from other source of energy. Add mems with a processor and wireless chip, a lot of scope for innovative applications. Its all about creative exploration of today's problems and solving them through a combo of sensor, processor and a wireless chip. The word 'smart' is quite powered by this combo.

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