The Internet of Things has become so heavily hyped that it is tempting to pen a buzz-kill, but as tempting as that might be, it would be disingenuous.
The Internet of Things is really earning its stripes: The technology is growing rapidly and reaching farther and into broader applications. Your things — phones, watches, keys, thermostats, and locks — can be connected via communication channels to each other and to the Internet to provide unprecedented convenience and benefits. In fact, many of your things already are connected (or at least can be with a few purchases).
What technologies are providing the impetus for this growth, and what applications are reaping the most benefits? I'll discuss a few in this blog, and more in subsequent ones.
As a MEMS sensor guy, I am partial to the technologies, applications, and benefits of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), so I'll start there. In subsequent posts, I will cover multi-sensor based applications and their needs; areas of growth and why they are growing; connectivity issues and solutions; as well as IoT enablers, examples, and technological and societal challenges.
Although sensors are just one of the five enabling technologies of the IoT (the others are MCUs, power management and control, communications, and security), sensors are the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and fingers of the IoT body. Tiny, accurate, power efficient, and cost effective, they have enabled the strong penetration of MEMS-based sensors into high-growth applications in portable devices.
Want to measure aspects of the environment like heat or humidity? Want to measure movement of any sort? Want to measure sound? Sensors can do any or all of that.
To accelerate time-to-market and achieve economies of scale, standardizing the core technology has been critical. At the forefront of the necessary standardization efforts, the development of ThELMA (Thick Epitaxial Layer for Micro-gyroscopes and Accelerometers), a 0.8-micron, surface micro-machining process, combines variably thick and thin poly-silicon layers for structures and interconnections, respectively. Using the same micromachining technology platform for manufacturing accelerometers and gyroscopes also enables the integration of linear and angular mechanical elements on a single die, delivering significant cost and size benefits.
In combination with ThELMA, the VENSENS process (VENice process for SENSors) allows the integration of a cavity into mono-crystalline silicon, producing an ultra-compact pressure sensor with excellent size and performance properties–thinner and smaller devices with higher robustness, thermal stability and reliability. Then, Through-Silicon Via technology (TSV) in high-volume MEMS production can replace traditional chip-to-chip wiring with short vertical interconnects in multi-chip MEMS devices, such as smart sensors and multi-axis inertial modules. This enables a higher level of functional integration; greater space efficiency; higher interconnect density; and better performance in a smaller form factor – all while increasing robustness and performance.
One by one, MEMS sensors have revolutionized a variety of human accomplishments: navigation, gaming, printing, projection, vehicle safety, fitness and wellness, DNA analysis, and drug delivery, to name just a very few. The “things” that enhance life have been made more efficient, smaller, and more useful, through micro-electro-mechanical systems.