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MEMS, MITRE, and DARPA

During my attendance at the MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress 2018 at the end of October, I was pleasantly surprised that the two most powerful presentations that will greatly benefit the MEMS industry were from US Federal Government-funded agencies. Let’s take a look at the two agencies and what their goals are. (Please do not get political in your comments regarding this article—this site is a technical site and I want to only discuss technology-related commentary. Save those comments for a newspaper editorial section. I will delete any political-related blogs)

MITRE stated goal is to solve problems for a safer world. Through their federally funded R&D centers and public-private partnerships, they work across government to tackle challenges to the safety, stability, and well-being of our nation.

For sixty years, DARPA has held to a singular and enduring mission: to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security.

Now, let’s take a look at what those presentations were about and how and why they are so critical to the MEMS industry at this point in time.

DARPA

Dr. Ron Polcawich, program manager in the Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) of DARPA discussing Rapid Innovation with Production MEMS (RIPM) in his keynote at MSEC2018 (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

Dr. Ron Polcawich, program manager in the Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) of DARPA discussing Rapid Innovation with Production MEMS (RIPM) in his keynote at MSEC2018 (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

Dr. Polcawich’s goal was to facilitate a dialog between Integrated Device Manufacturers (IDMs), MEMS foundries, system integrators, and government stakeholders to reduce the time for innovation and transition for new MEMS concepts, explore innovation via Large Scale Integration (LSI), and increase DoD access to production-proven processes for the purpose of increasing access to state-of-the-art processes, to leverage economies of scale, and enable new device designs and concepts in a framework of production proven processes.

In essence: To achieve for MEMS what the IC industry has achieved for the transistor .

RIPM seeks to coordinate designers, aggregators, and foundries to run MPWs or share die real estate with advanced processes such as EpiSeal, Aluminum Nitride (AlN) on CMOS (popular for piezoelectrics), and more.

Dr. Polcawich's slide for a call-to-action to accelerate MEMS technology and fabrication (Image courtesy of DARPA)

Dr. Polcawich’s slide for a call-to-action to accelerate MEMS technology and fabrication (Image courtesy of DARPA)

The call to action to the MEMS attendees was to ask: What are the tipping point technologies? What impactful innovations should we push in the industry?, What are the key performance metrics?, and Should standards be considered for layout or interposer technology?

This presentation and a brief Q&A afterwards began a very key working relationship for success between government and industry. More good developments will come from this cooperation effort. Stay tuned.

MITRE

Cynthia Wright, Principal Cyber Security Engineer, MITRE Corporation (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

Cynthia Wright, Principal Cyber Security Engineer, MITRE Corporation (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

Cynthia Wright began her discussion highlighting MEMS Sensors and actuators in personal safety (Air quality alerts, fire detection, vehicle airbag and collision avoidance). Then, turning to Healthcare, she mentioned Medical wearables and medical implants. Next were the world’s critical infrastructure elements such as the Power Grid, water testing and treatment, natural gas distribution, petroleum processing and transportation, chemical manufacturing process control, and port operations. Finally, MEMS in the military world.

IoT devices are everywhere and are growing in numbers and are extremely vulnerable to attack. MEMS create a conduit to our most operationally sensitive, and personally private data.

What makes each MEMS-enabled device special is also what makes it vulnerable:

  • They’re tiny and normally possess only enough intelligence to perform a single function
  • Little physical room for things like memory, processors, or additional computing power
  • Adding computational capabilities can result in increasing component size, power requirements, heat generation
  • Because of these constraints, most IoT devices have no security at all, or at best ship with basic default password protection

Wright commented that by assuming that an IoT device behind a firewall is safe, is a false sense of security. Legislators are now paying attention and legislation is coming; there is now a 2018 National Cybersecurity Strategy.

Cynthia Wright summed up the urgent effort for security: ‘Seemingly impossible….Certainly improbable….but necessary’.

Security-by-design is needed; Ms. Wright pointed out this Electronic Products article entitled What designers need to know about IIoT security.

Ms. Wright also mentioned a comment from Richard M. Frankel, FBI, Cybersecurity Crime Investigations :

“Just letting a breach happen, and then going in and correcting that issue is not enough anymore.

The CEO, C-Suite and Board all have a much higher potential for being held liable, both personally and corporately , if they don’t take the required due diligence…to make sure the firm is protected from cyber security actors.”

In summary, Ms. Wright said that consumers are concerned about their IoT privacy and security, but businesses are not there yet—they should be. External threats are growing—starting at the Supply Chain. Assured Security and Privacy are differentiators that will cost more but have the potential to earn more and lose the designers/manufacturers less in liability.

More on this topic

DARPA’s Ron Polcawich at MSEC 2018

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