Top Takeaways from the MEMS and Sensor Executive Congress

November 29, 2016, anysilicon

The approximately $1.5 billion growth opportunity for sensors in the automotive industry over the next six years brings a rush of contending new technologies and new suppliers. New platforms may make for faster introduction and testing of sensors for autos and phones. And new MEMS sensors hitting the market suggest piezoelectric technology can offer impressive power and performance.


New crowd of suppliers scrambles after emerging ~$1.5 billion growth opportunity in automotive sensors


Auto makers will buy more than $6 billion sensors by 2022, putting ~200 sensors on a high-end car, for an average sensor value of $61 per vehicle, up 45 percent from 2010, reported Jérémie Bouchaud, IHS director and senior analyst, at the recent MSIG Executive Congress (November 9-11 in Scottsdale, Arizona).  While the majority of the total will continue to be familiar MEMS devices, most of the growth will come from other types of sensors, from LIDAR and radar to ultrasonic and optical, with the optimal technologies for most still up for grabs, and the market for each type still limited. Consumer and military sensor suppliers, OEMs and startups, chip makers and Tier 1s are all scrambling for a part of this roughly $1.5 billion opportunity.


The average chip value of the MEMS and sensors in a car will grow from $42 in 2010 to $61 in 2022, with much of the growth going forward to come from non-MEMS sensors. Source: IHS Technology, 2016.

Automotive OEMs want to control the sensor fusion themselves, so they may skip the Tier 1s to work directly with chip companies, with SoC suppliers like NVIDIA, NXP and Intel entering the market, along with startups with innovative technologies. A variety of smaller, cheaper LIDAR solutions are vying to replace the current mechanical systems, and flash laser and phase array approaches are closer to the market than MEMS, which still has issues with resolution, vibration and range. LIDAR will require more accurate navigation, creating a need for higher performance inertial sensors, bringing competitors in from the military side.  Adaptive lighting, to continually adjust the full-beam headlights, will see fast growth, with MEMS mirrors one possible solution. High-end cars are also starting to add remote diagnostics for brake pad wear or tire grip, and even microphones for noise cancellation. Electric cars would need significantly fewer sensors, with $8-$12 worth of sensors for an electric engine compared to $50 for a gasoline engine, but IHS forecasts that electric cars will come to only 3 percent of the market by 2028. Traditional MEMS devices for safety and power train will also see healthy growth as India and China add mandates for airbags, ABS, emissions control, and tire pressure monitoring systems, so IHS is currently revising its forecast upward.


Emerging platforms speed field testing and introduction of sensors on phones and autos


It’s not an easy process to get a new sensor designed into a mobile phone or auto, but new options for field testing and introducing new or niche sensors could make it easier.


I-BLADES offers sensor makers an easy way to integrate their sensors into an Android or iOS phone by a hard-wire connection from a PCB in a smart case or a snap-on module. The cases and modules are marketed to consumers for adding batteries or memory cards, but sensor makers can also use them to offer new applications directly to the consumer, or for testing or specialty niche markets.  First add-on hardware was for fast testing and shortened time-to-market for a system to allow buying and streaming video even when offline.  Bosch Sensortec also used the system for introduction of its environmental sensor, which i-BLADES embedded in the case in six weeks, compared to the much longer road for design-in from phone makers. The company was the MSIG event’s Technology Showcase winner.


i-BLADE case and snap on module with battery make direct hard-wired connections to iPhones or Android models, for easy integration of new sensors. Source: i-BLADE

Local Motors is similarly offering its autonomous electric minibus as a platform for fast iterations for testing automotive sensors. “This platform can get the sensors on the vehicle for testing in four months instead of years,” said GM Philip Rayer at the MSIG event, noting that the company aims to turn out new models of its co-created and largely 3D-printed vehicles every few months, and solicits help from many partners, including sensor makers. “What we really need is to have all these sensor sets blended into one system for simplicity, like LIDAR and vision, since they are all looking at the same thing in different ways,” he noted. “No one wants a Google car with that big ugly sensor array.”


Local Motors is looking for co-creation partners to figure out how to consolidate and simplify the sensors and wiring on its autonomous minibuses, planned to go through fast iterations. Source: Local Motors

The Arizona company has demonstrated quick design and production of products ranging from a custom cargo drone for Airbus to a specialty vehicle for the Marines. But its autonomous electric minibus Olli, initially aimed at low speed, private roads such as corporate campuses or retirement communities, is currently its main sensor test vehicle. The current version has some 25 sensors, including some being tested by NXP. The vehicles come with an Uber-like consumer app, and a fleet management system for a human monitor who takes over if the sensor information shows any unexpected behavior. (See www.meetolli.auto).


Piezoelectric MEMS hold low-power promise


Piezoelectrics look promising for new types of low power MEMS, with startups demonstrating very tiny and low power piezoelectric microphones and ultrasound sensors. Although neither is yet proven in volume production, both these startups have gotten these piezo devices out at conventional foundries faster than the typical disruptive new MEMS product, suggesting the piezo technology could be relatively less persnickety than some MEMS approaches.


Vesper says its piezoelectric microphone draws only 6µA when off, and wakes on sound in a µs, greatly extending the standby time and reducing power usage of a voice recognition device.  Unlike traditional capacitive MEMS mics, the piezoelectric device also works in dust and in water. The company is sampling now and aims at production in 1Q 2017.


Piezoelectric MEMS mic from Vesper reduces power usage and works in dusty and wet environments. Source: Vesper

Chirp Microsystems demonstrated a display that reacted to hand gestures, based on distance-sensing by tiny MEMS ultrasound sensors in its corners, made by sputtered piezoelectric thin film in a foundry.  The always-on unit draws less than 15µW, and wakes the processor only when needed.  CTO and founder David Horsley says ultrasound works better than optical or IR in sunlight, and has a wider field of view. First target market is consumer controls and augmented or virtual reality, though eventually the small devices could potentially replace the larger ones now on cars’ backup and parking sensors.


chip microsystems

Piezoelectric MEMS ultrasound reduces size and power use. Source: Chirp


This is a guest article by Paula Doe, SEMI

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