Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New frontiers in MEMS around the human body

Staying with Future Horizons' International Electronics Forum (IEF) 2010 held recently in Dresden, Germany, Benedetto Vigna, Group Vice President and General Manager, MEMS, Sensors and High Performance Analog Division, STMicroelectronics, made a wonderful presentation on how MEMS can be useful for the human body, especially from the medical electronics point of view.

MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) is a three-dimensional device embedded in silicon, and uses silicon’s mechanical (and electrical) properties. It supports multifunctional systems of actuators, electronics and sensors.

Three critical waves of MEMS
Vigna highlighted the three very important waves of MEMS -- automotive airbags, consumerization, and MEMS in, on, around the body! The last part is the most interesting one!

Automotive airbags formed the 1st wave of MEMS. The application supported big and not-so-precise accelerometers. Additional automotive applications followed, such as tyre pressure sensors and stability control. Vigna heralded consumerization as the 2nd wave of MEMS. There have been high-volume fabrication techniques, leading to higher performance/greater reliability at lower costs.
He also pointed out the Wii effect! In this case, the high-volume commitment of vendors + UI benefits led to consumerization of MEMS.

Vigna added that MEMS has seen a speeding spiral of success in recent times. Earlier, it took 25 years from labs to fabs. Now, three product generations are developed and released in 12 months!

Another instance or example of the 2nd MEMS wave include the move from keyboard and mouse to free motion. In this case, the MEMS sensors change interaction with consumer electronics and propel new applications. There are now:
* Motion user interfaces in phones, games and remotes.
* Advanced navigation and location-based services.
* Free-fall protection in portable devices.

MEMS market
Vigna focused a moment on the MEMS motion sensors market 2009-2013 and the MEMS market. As far as the MEMS motion sensors market is concerned, accelerometers are likely to grow at 14.5 percent CAGR for the period 2009-2013. On the other hand, gyroscopes are likely to grow at 17.3 percent CAGR during 2009-2013.

Cell phones and CE is the major market segment in both cases, registering 19.5 percent CAGR and 25,4 percent CAGR, respectively, followed by automotive at 10.7 percent CAGR and 12.3 percent CAGR, respectively.

It is to be noted that in 2009, the overall MEMS market was almost flat compared to 2008, but volumes rose significantly, showing increasing penetration of MEMS in consumer devices.

Current trends in MEMS
Coming on to the current trends, MEMS is now pushing the limits of size and power -- motion sensors are squeezing the footprint to 2x2 mm and current consumption well below 10uA in full operating mode. Multiple sensor integration is another trend. The integration of motion, magnetic, pressure and temperature sensors in a single package brings more degrees of freedom.

Embedded intelligence is the third key trend. The on-chip processing capabilities are enabling smart autonomous sensors and decreasing power consumption at the system level. Finally, software, is now the 'S' in MEMS! Vigna said that hardware and software integration is a key added value and differentiating factor.

Third wave of MEMS
Now, to the critical and most exciting third wave of MEMS -- in, on, around the human body!

If you look at the population trends of today, while it is increasing, people are also living longer. The global average age has been increasing, as has been the cost of healthcare. In fact, healthcare is estimated to account for ~ 25 percent of the US GDP by 2025.

So, what can MEMS do for healthcare? Actually, a whole lot of things! Some of these are sensing -- motion, molecular detection and pressure, temperature cycling, microfluidics -- pumps and valves, electrophoresis and energy capture. Vigna also gave an example of the bio-to-bit networks as the third wave of MEMS, which actually makes home as the point of care!

There are some common themes in this third MEMS Wave. For instance, connectivity leads to low power wireless data transmission, with improved accuracy, reliability and efficiency of diagnosis and treatment.

The applications of MEMS in its third wave in healthcare are themselves eye catching! Some of these are:

DNA/RNA analysis -- a disposable lab-on-chip for rapid, point-of-care diagnosis. Then, Nanopump diabetes management -- the nanopump has been developed by Debiotech and ST.

Further, remote patient monitoring -- a remote heart monitor by ST and Mayo Clinic. It features fall and ‘smart’ motion detection.

Next, the wireless body sensor network. We already have the SensAction AAL, an EU-funded pilot of a remote motion monitoring system for the elderly. A wearer’s movements are tracked and communicated wirelessly to a PDA/PC. It is using ST’s MotionBee wireless sensor technology.

Glaucoma detection is yet another application -- a 24-hour disposable contact lens with pressure sensor, courtesy, ST and Sensimed. And lastly, smart micro-robotics for less invasive surgeries.

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