MEMS has been present at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for over a decade, but nobody knew it was there except for a handful of plugged-in engineers. Finally this year, MEMS received the respect and accolades it deserves. I am pretty sure it had something to do with the fact that MEMS Industry Group (MIG) hosted the first MEMS TechZone and MEMS conference track, "Connecting the Real World with the Digital World: Harnessing the Power of MEMS."
It also had a lot to with the prevalence of MEMS in today's consumer electronics. These have enabled enhancements consumers expect in the next generation of consumer devices. This new trend was a big part of the discussion at the CES conference track featuring Bosch Sensortec's Frank Melzer, Freescale's Seyed Paransun, VTI's Sten Stockmann, WiSpry's Jeff Hilbert, and myself as the moderator. I told the audience that if you want to be part of consumer electronics, you're going to need to have MEMS inside your device.
According to Hilbert: "We're at a tipping point for MEMS where it's becoming more generally available and usable. Companies are not just selling technology; they are providing total solutions. A decade ago MEMS companies began with sensors collecting data about the real world. Then they added processing; followed by the ability to act and then interact, which gave us the possibility of learning."
Now we are at a time where MEMS can enable "massive personalization," Hilbert said, of things (think iPhone 4S's Siri on steroids). With "MEMS on board," your world can become digitally customized -- imagine clothes that can change colors based on your surroundings or even your mood, or a mobile device that monitors your biorhythm and reminds you to take your medication.
Very soon, with the aid of MEMS's 9-axis accel/gyros, we are also going to have smartphones with 3D navigation that will be able to pinpoint your location inside a building to a high degree of accuracy. This can become a life-saving technology for first responders to find people buried in rubble where every second is critical. Paransun believes that "the sky is the limit in terms of opportunity and in terms of how MEMS can be deployed."
Rob, actually in regards to any micro device those numbers are not such a big deal. I learned recently that there are more transistors produced each year than letters printed (and copied, etc.). Think of that. A transistor is a much more complicated thing than a letter on a page, and yet we make more of them. WOW! The scale of these things is mind boggling. I expect that with MEMS devices we will see similar scale.
Karen, thanks for the update. Having written about MEMS a lot about 10 years ago from the semi and packaging production angle, it's really great to see them finally getting some recognition closer to the user end.
@Karen: Thanks for the pointer to the work being done at CMU's Quality of Life Technology Center. I'll buy the right into the case that the right usage of MEMs can enable personalization in an unobtrusive way, especially if it's "big mother" watching over the process. I like that!
Well, it is the CONSUMER electronics show.One of the mentalities I was taught when designing an electronic product was to consider that my mother would be using it.Removing the tech from technology so that a typical mom can adopt and easily pick up the use and application of a new gizmo is what makes them successful. --- So, not surprised that MEMS had a slow ramp of visibility over 10 years at CES.I think that was not the case in more technical trade shows.
Absolutely, MEMS will be a big part of Design News's upcoming Sensors in Design conference at the end of March. As we note at the end of the article, Karen Lightman will be a track chair, and she's been instrumental in helping us recruit great speakers and panelists for the conference. Again, it's March 28-29, 2012 in San Jose. Visit www.SensorsInDesign2012.com to learn more and to register.
@Ann thanks for your comment. Yes, CES is mainly an end-user show (though you'd never know it when you see some of the interesting things for sale there...but that's fodder for another blog). By co-exhibiting with several of our member companies, our MEMS TechZone was pretty successful and we are looking to making it even bigger and better with more demos and examples of the "MEMS inside the machine" so that the message about the impact and potential of MEMS is spread even further...But I was pretty impressed with the folks who came to our booth and knew what MEMS stood for (or darned close) and were excited to see our presence at CES. It was pretty cool and I look forward to next year!
@Alex and you forgot to mention that MEMS will be a key feature of Sensors in Design; with great speakers and content on March 28-29! I am really looking forward to it and hope to see many of you there.
@Beth thank you very much for your comment on my blog. I like to think of MEMS as helping us live in a world of "big Mother" rather than "big Brother" (okay I admit that is not my original quote, I am re-quoting Forrester Research's Julie Ask). MEMS, by the nature of its smart sensing, can help a person in his/her daily life in an unobtrusive way - I point to the Quality of Life Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University - www.cmu.edu/qolt - which is leading the research and application of such technology. CMU's Dan Siewiorek, who spoke at MEMS Executive Congress 2010, was recently featured in an article in Medical Eletronics Design (http://www.medicalelectronicsdesign.com/article/quality-life-assurance) that speaks to how this can work and improve Quality of Life through "intelligent systems that take into account the abilities, needs, and intentions of the user."
I agree, Ann. CES tends to focus on the needs of retailers and end users rather than engineers. Even so it's fun to see what's getting presented. It may change in the future. Instead of Apple, you get Apple suppliers. This year was Microsoft's last year. It's certainly changing.
I agree, Chuck, CES has always been aimed more toward the user end of the supply chain than at design engineers. Wasn't it originally a distribution show? Anyway, I think it's funny that MEMS are only now getting the respect they deserve.
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