Catching the MEMS bug

Rules are there to be broken, so they say, and I have already broken mine by including a product story in my news section. I'll explain …

ST has just launched two new accelerometers for mobile phones, designed to enable applications like personal navigation, freefall detection, smart user interfaces and intelligent motion-based power management. ST and MEMS is nothing new – indeed, it is precisely its long-term involvement in MEMS research that is paying off right now with products like the two-axis LIS244ALH and three-axis LIS344ALH. As David Carey notes in his Under the Hood series for EETimes, both the high profile Apple iPhone and the Nokia N95's orientation-sensitive screen features can be traced back to a similar ST part, the LIS302.

European engineers were quick to catch the MEMS bug. One of the leading platforms for research was Europractice, established in 1995 to promote the use of MEMS and microsystems in Europe. ST was just one of the participants in Europractice to benefit from its involvement. German electronics giant Bosch has been able to exploit MEMS for automotive sensors. A myriad of start-up's also spawned from the Europractice programme, including Belgian image sensor firm Fill Factory, which was acquired by Cypress Semiconductor, and Dutch MEMS specialist, C2V.

Whilst MEMS technology has been widely used in everything from ink-jet printers to automotive airbags, it is the mobile phone that will revolutionise volumes, and prices. Referring to Nintendo Wii's motion-sensing remote control and the iPhone's self-orienting displays, ABI Research's senior analyst Douglas McEuen predicts that these are just a 'high-profile advance wave of what will be a rising tide of new and innovative uses for the tiny motion sensors.' In agreement is Dale Ford, senior vp, market intelligence for iSuppli, who in a statement marking iSuppli's recent acquisition of MEMS and sensors market researcher WTC said: “From automotive infotainment, to mobile communications, to video-game consoles, MEMS technology represents a huge growth opportunity for the global technology industry.” It would appear that everyone is catching the MEMS bug

Developments to look out for include a MEMS gyro and accelerometer from ST that works with one of its GPS chips. Targeted at enabling a complete navigation solution for mobile phones – yes, a mobile phone application that I can at last truly appreciate – its just one reasons why I have caught the MEMS bug too.

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