Electronic Design

Stuff Your Stocking With Holiday Goodies This Season

I wonder how many people will buy presents that incorporate some kind of MEMS device this season. There are a lot of choices out there. At the recent MEMS Congress in San Diego, keynote speaker Philippe Khan of Borland fame noted that the Apple iPhone and Nintendo Wii have brought MEMS into the mainstream. His current company, Fullpower (www.fullpower.com), seems all set to take advantage of the rapidly growing MEMS sensor market with its Fullpower Inference Engine.

So where else will MEMS appear this year? How about a pedometer, like the Omron HJ-150 (Fig. 1)? At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, one of my editorial colleagues amused me by showing me a pedometer displaying the number of steps he had taken walking the aisles of the Las Vegas Convention Center and myriad other venues.

My wife got one as a gift last Christmas too—not from me, of course. I would never make that mistake. But I think I’ll borrow it to track my steps at this year’s CES. The wireless game controller for Sony’s PlayStation 3 has MEMS accelerometers inside. I’ll have to admit, I was disappointed when I tried to play Formula One Championship Edition on the PS3 and it did not respond to the controller’s movements. I wonder if future versions of the game will account for the controller’s motion. It seems like a more natural way to play a car racing game.

Other gifts could include tablet PCs, ultra-mobile PCs, cell phones, heart-rate monitors, and cars—tires too, if they have tirepressure sensors built in. So, MEMS manufacturers should have a great holiday season. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Mems In The Money
According to projections by Jeremie Bouchaud of Wicht Technologie Consulting (WTC) in Munich, Germany, the industry is poised for a 11% compound annual growth rate for the next few years, growing from $7 billion in 2006 to $11.5 billion in 2011.

The top MEMS manufacturer by revenue was Texas Instruments by a wide margin. So how about a 50-in. DLP rear-projection HDTV for the holidays? You wouldn’t be alone.

Or how about a new inkjet printer under the tree? According to WTC, inkjet printers had more than 30% market share in 2006, with Hewlett-Packard and Canon benefitting, placing them second and third behind TI in MEMS revenue. Lexmark and Seiko Epson weren’t far behind.

Microphones are a big deal, too. I spoke with Ken Gabriel, chairman and CEO of Akustica (www.akustica.com), at the MEMS Congress. The company makes MEMS microphones with either analog or digital output that can be found on notebook computers and cell phones—also nice presents. And the Akustica microphones are very small, just 1 by 1 mm.

Maybe not this holiday season, but next year you’ll probably find MEMS tunable digital capacitors popping up in cell phones courtesy of WiSpry (www.wispry.com). Russ Garcia, WiSpry’s president and CEO, says the company’s tunable capacitors will eliminate hand-tuning in handsets.

With these devices, tuning can be done on the fly, based on indexing tables. The device is 3 by 3 mm now, but it may get even smaller next year. This innovative MEMS device promises improved transmission in cell phones as well as longer battery life.

Saving Lives, Too
It probably isn’t on any Christmas lists this year. But another compelling MEMS product is an insulin pump from a Swiss company called Debiotech (www.debiotech.com). President and CEO Frederic Neftel offered some astonishing figures about diabetes, which will affect about 60 million people in the United States in the not too distant future, suggesting a large market for a new technology.

Earlier this year, Debiotech announced a strategic cooperation agreement with STMicroelectronics aimed at manufacturing and delivering to the market a miniaturized insulin-delivery pump. Relying on microfluidic MEMS technology, the Nanopump is a breakthrough concept that allows a tiny pump to be mounted on a disposable skin patch to provide continuous insulin infusion (Fig. 2). Since it takes advantage of a MEMS device, the Nanopump is about a quarter the size of existing pumps. And, it can provide precise control of insulin doses.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

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