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MEMS tech brings inroads in consumer devices

Posted: 13 Nov 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MEMS? consumer device? interface?

As MEMS technology steadily gets integrated into cellphones, digital cameras and other consumer devices, it could soon make a giant step toward the so-called "lifestyle products," where MEMS chips could provide more manageable interfaces.

"Anything that moves is a target for MEMS," said Leopold Beer, director of marketing, Bosch Sensortec.

While MEMS devices like microphones, accelerometers and pressure sensors are now incorporated into cellphones for applications like navigation, proponents of the technology predict it will become more pervasive as an interface.

Citing the success of the Wii game console, Christoph Wagner, sensor application specialist, Analog Devices GmbH, said MEMS technology will make inroads into consumer markets like gaming and medical equipment.

Moving closer to the goal
Specific applications remain difficult to define and challenging to develop, he added, but the steady decline in unit prices for MEMS devices means they could eventually end up in a wider array of consumer products. Cutting the cost of producing MEMS devices while boosting performance could be accompanied by moving to larger wafer sizes and even outsourcing production, experts on a MEMS panel at the Electronica 2008 exhibition agreed.

Other potential consumer markets for MEMS are digital TVs and the STBs that will control many receivers. As the amount of digital TV programming handled by STBs grows, remote controls have become far more complex for consumers. Claire Jackoski of Freescale Semiconductor predicted that MEMS-based sensors like gyroscopes and accelerometers would let consumers to simply wave a remote control to switch a digital TV set-top.

Fabio Pasolini of STMicroelectronics agreed that MEMS sensors will increasingly be used in "pointing devices" like buttonless remote controls, adding that the technology will increasingly be applied "to things we use in our lives."

While MEMS applications seem to be expanding as the technology grows cheaper, the estimated $7 billion global market for MEMS is expected to cool if, as expected, consumer spending slows down. An industry group also projected this week that the MEMS market could contract in 2009.

These market pressures will force MEMS makers to lower the cost of new MEMS-based systems before they are embraced by most consumers, as industry experts said. Jeremie Bouchard, MEMS industry analyst, iSuppli Deutschland, noted that emerging MEMS devices like two-axis gyroscopes currently remain too costly for consumer applications. Industry executives countered that the unit price of gyroscopes will eventually drop just as accelerometer prices did once they reached volume production.

- George Leopold
EE Times Europe

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