Tag: gyroscopes

STMicro outlines the future of MEMS

Speaking today at the MEMS Executive Congress Europe, here in Zurich, Carmelo Papa, senior executive VP and GM, industrial and multisegment sector for STMicroelectronics, outlined the progress and the next phases for an industry which is still booming.

Microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, can be over-simplified as the tiny devices which mean your iPhone knows which way it is being held. But this is just a small portion of what MEMS are used for and what they are capable of. MEMS, as Papa’s keynote puts it, are only “limited by the imagination”.

Excluding the automotive sector, StMicroelectronics has been the top player for four years in a row, he claims. Automotive still makes up a “big chunk”, Papa said. “When I started with MEMS it represented almost 80 percent, now it is around 50 percent. It’s not that the portion of MEMS has shrunk, but the consumer industry overall has expanded, a lot.”

In five years from now, Papa estimates the ratio between the consumer and automotive segments will look more like 80 to 20 percent. At first, ST decided not to go into automotive because it is a “risky business” – if you start with gaming, for example with Nintendo, if something goes wrong it’s overall a lot less of a deal than if your BMW breaks down. 

“Now that we are safe,” Papa said, “in 2012 there are a lot of designs in automotive that will see us growing very, very fast in that field.” 

ST’s business used to be just based on accelerometers. Then, 2010 was the year of the gyroscope. In 2012, he said, we will see the combination of the sensors altogether, along with other sensors. All the gaming players were interested except for Microsoft, because it used a different type of sensor, but with Windows 8 on the way STMicro will be able to count Redmond as a customer too. “The way we have been moving around the world you can compare to lego,” he said. “Step by step, accelerometers, gyroscopes, then the combination of them together.”

This year we can expect to see other types of MEMS take off. The electronic compass will find its way into phones and cars, as well the altimeter or barometer for 3D positioning and e-GPS. “It will be pervasive,” Papa said. “You can have it everywhere,” even in watches.

MEMS are a no-brainer, ST suggests, because they add value at a very low cost in high volume. “20cm precision for a device that costs less than 50 cents- that is something that was unthinkable five years ago,” he said.

MEMS active microphones will continue to be installed. They “offer a unique sensitivity” and are “very unidirectional” – not only in mobile phones, but also in laptops.

Where is the market going from here? According to Papa, the competition is going to get bigger and bigger. It is “still very attractive land.” The way for companies to win will be for those companies who “have the imagination and the innovation rate so high to be able to appeal in front of customers”, so demonstrations mean you don’t need to be Einstein to understand the added value.

“The environment will be more and more crowded, but to understand the wishes and, in advance, what the market wants, you need to be very, very innovative,” he said. “The innovation rate will be the differentiator.”

Gyroscopes are the new boom market

Analyst house IHS claims that the latest booming piece of technology is the gyroscope.

For years the gizmo that keeps things balanced has been stopping aircraft and Italian cruise ships from flipping over. Now it is getting a new lease of life in the iPhone and iPad. IHS says this makes them the top consumer and mobile microelectromechanical sevice in 2011.

Microelectromechanical gear, or MEMS, netted $655.4 million in 2011, up 66 percent from $394.5 million in 2010.

The analyts think the gyroscope will take in $1.1 billion by 2015, well ahead of accelerometers at $705 million.

The newfound prominence of gyroscopes means the devices last year accounted for 41 percent of revenue for all kinds of motion sensors in consumer and mobile applications, including accelerometers and electronic compasses, at $1.6 billion. This is compared to a 24 percent share in 2010 when overall motion sensor revenue stood at $1.1 billion.

Gyroscopes have become more important thanks to the boom in 3-axis versions of the iPhone and iPad. When they are used with 3-axis accelerometers they provide more accurate motion sensing. Accelerometers correctly orientate phones and tablets to the viewer’s perspective whether the devices are held vertically or horizontally, gyroscopes improve the motion-based interface for things like gaming.

Jérémie Bouchaud, who is the director and senior principal analyst for MEMS & sensors at IHS, said that smartphones and media tablets are by far the main adopters of the 3-axis gyroscope.

He said that of the $655 million total revenue generated by the gyroscope space, the 3-axis segment accounted for $462 million, or 71 percent. Apple was the main consumer, accounting for 62 percent consumption of 3-axis gyroscopes, with other manufacturers like Samsung and LG also beginning to use them last year.

STMicroelectronics is the leading producer of both gyroscopes and accelerometers, with Apple accounting for half of the company’s MEMS business in 2011. STMicro is the sole supplier of gyroscopes and accelerometers for the iPhone and iPad. 

MEMS market to reach $6 billion by 2016

The market for MEMS, or micro electro mechanical systems, is expected to race past the $6 billion mark as early as 2016, according to a report.

Juniper Research, which wrote the report, says that inertial sensor adoption – including accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers – have all found their place in the market thanks to advanced gaming and navigation applications. Because of the demand, they have become necessary in all smartphones and tablets.

The development of MEMS sensors will eventually be an “important differentiator” for mobile manufacturers in the future, because the build and quality of the devices will enable different capabilities and functions.

Juniper divides MEMS into three different categories in its report, those already deployed, like accelerometers and gyroscopes, MEMS which are currently being deployed, like displays, RF devices, pressure sensors and microphones, and future applications like joysticks, temperature sensors, speakers and pico projectors.

Author Nitin Bhas said that there are “lots of additional functionalities that smartphones and tablets will pick up over time and those capabilities have already started to appear, such as stabilisation control”.

Vendors will begin using high quality audio input and integrating multiple microphones, which should push the number of MEMS microphones in mobile devices to reach past the 2 billion mark in 2016.

Juniper also says that manufacturers have been ramping their production in RF MEMS, which signifies that they will soon be found in “most products” designed for use in the wireless market.

TechEye will be heading to MEMS Executive Congress Europe this March to cover the opportunities in the industry.  

3-axis gyroscopes get smaller and smaller

French semi giant ST Microelectronics said it has introduced what it claims is the world’s smallest 3-axis analogue gyroscope, with added performance.

ST Micro has already shipped 1.54 billion motion sensors but said that the new version, the L3G3250A, shrinks the footprint to 10.5 mm3 – that’s a 40 percent reduction.

The sensors are used in a number of applications including robotics, appliances, gaming, GPS, gaming and VR input devices.

The unit has a single sensing structure along all three orthoganal axes and better reliability and immunity to audio noise and other vibrations.

The device also has two scales, 625 or 2500 degrees per second, making it able to measure fast gestures and movements.

ST Micro has started sampling the devices and will ship them in volume in the fourth quarter of this year, costing $3.95 for 1,000 pieces. There are discounts for larger volumes of the device.

Nintendo 3DS only costs $100 to put together

Researchers at IHS iSuppli have torn apart a Nintendo 3DS and have concluded that the component cost amounts to only $100.71 – even though the unit sells for $250 in the USA.

In the UK, the 3DS costs £230 – that is currently $368, quite considerably more than the $100 bill of materials cost that IHS iSuppli estimates. Last week we reported how the UK is being stung by the price Nintendo is charging here in the UK.

The market research company compared the BOM for the 3DS to the Nintendo DSi, the latter cost in component charges $75.58 – IHS iSuppli thinks that the 3DS is vulnerable because it uses suppliers based in Japan, already reeling from supply difficulties because of the earthquake, tsunami and the failure of power.

Andrew Rassweiler, senior director, said that the 3D top screen uses a “clever feat of engineering”, based on Sharp technology and using an integrated LCD based parallax barrier panel sandwiched to the back of the colour LCD. The user interface of the 3DS is more expensive because it uses a MEMS gyroscope, while the camera subsystem costs $4.70, not much more than the DSi.

GloFo takes aim at MEMS market

Chip foundry GloFo has its eyes set on making waves in the MEMS market.

What are MEMS? They’re micro electro mechanical systems –  used for actuators, sensors and mechanical elements all integrated on silicon.

According to Rakesh Kumar, director of MEMS at GloFo, the opportunities to become a provider is because there’s a huge range of applications for such devices in the industrial, consumer, telecom, aerospace, medical, automotive and defence industries.

You can find MEMS for accelerometers, gyroscopes, microphones, pressure sensors, mini-mirrors, inkjet heads and the medical and consumer industries are pushing their development. Kumar said that GloFo is creating surface and bulk micromachining and wants to be a major player by 2012.

It wants to take the opportunity of challenging small specialist MEMS foundries which, er founder on their limited economies of scale and will use its 200mm fabs as a basis for the uniting of CMOS and machining. The initiative will therefore be based out of Singapore.  The former Chartered Semi has been working on MEMS for some years, and there will be risk production by the third quarter of 2011.

It will concentrate on MEMS for accelerometers, gyroscopes and RF MEMS and so far has a roadmap extending to 2014.

By focusing on fabless MEMS companies it wants to become the supplier for designs its customers need building.

See Also
Wear your heart on your sleeve