Wear your heart on your sleeve

Benedetto Vigna, group VP of ST Micro’s MEMS, sensors and high performance analogue division said his company was exploring “new frontiers” in  micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS).

Sensors appear to be the new frontier for many of the big players in the semi industry and essentially a MEMS is a three dimensional device embedded in silicon and that uses silicon’s mechanical and electrical properties, supporting multifunctional systems of actuators, electronics and sensors.

The first wave of MEMS, according to Vigna, is in automotive airbags, tyre pressure sensors and stability control. The second wave is consumerisation of MEMS – he demonstrated this with an illustration of a young lass and a young lad waving devices in front of – presumably – a display screen,  and playing an interactive game of some sort. Perhaps they should be interacting with each other. MEMS sensors will push new apps and we’ll see motion user interfaces in phones coupled with advanced navigation and location based services.

Here’s some facts and figures he presented based on iSuppli data.


As far as motion sensors are concerned, SI is squeezing the footprint and power consumption – down to 10 microAmps in full operating mode, and seeks to integrate motion, magnetic, pressure and temperature sensions in a single package, putting in embedded intelligence.

So what’s the third wave? It’s healthcare. It’s interesting as the semiconductor industry gets older, senior executives are getting increasingly interested in health care. But as Vigna pointed out, there are nearly seven billion people on the planet,  He said that in 2007 $2 trillion was spent in the USA on health care.  In the US, healthcare by 2025 is estimated to be a quarter of the GDP.

He sees a future in which MEMS will perform a variety of functions including sensing – such as motion, molecular detection and pressure; temperature cycling; microfluidics including pumps and valves; electrophoresis and energy capture.

That could lead to a connected system of biological to bit networks but a lot depends on low power writeless data transmission and on the quacks and boffins developing better accuracy, reliability and efficiency of diagnosis and treatement.

Here’s a slide he showed for a disposable “lab on a chip”.

lab on chip

He said applications ST is working on includes a nanopump – developed by it and Debiotech for diabetes management.  ST and the Mayo Clinic are working on a remote heart monitor  – and then there’s the wireless body sensor network – the Sensaction AAL is an EU funded pilot of a remote motion monitoring system which tracks a person’s movements and transmits data wirelessly. It uses ST’s Motion Bee wireless sensor technology. ST and Sensimed are working on a 24 hour disposable contact lens with a pressure sensor to detect glaucoma.

Finally, the future will include “smart micro robotics”, allowing less invasive surgery.