Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, conceptualized in the 1960s and commercialized in the 1980s, are enabling several technologies and playing a central role in the boom of the Internet of Things. What began as a tiny nozzle to support the inkjet printers now has a host of products lined up to suit a variety of applications in the market.
From an application standpoint, MEMS devices have penetrated into a wide range of sectors ever since their inception with an inkjet printer. MEMS devices have a footprint in consumer electronics, industrial electronics, medical devices, gaming consoles, drones, imaging, and several other applications.
The increase in the number of applications is primarily attributed to the development of a varied set of products. Recently, several MEMS devices such as accelerometers and gyroscopes have been integrated into a single module to cater to advanced application scenarios in consumer electronics devices for augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), drone, robotics, and gaming console applications. However, it has to be noted that several advances in front-end fabrication and back-end integration also have considerably contributed to the development of MEMS.
An even more exciting application is the MEMS spectrometer. MEMS spectrometers allow analysis to be carried out for several applications including food safety and elemental composition in sectors such oil and gas and pharmaceutical. Notably, the small form factor of the device enables it to be integrated into a smartphone case. Therefore, MEMS spectrometers are portable and help carry out analysis without sample preparation, thereby expediting the process. This proves to be an advantage over traditional bench-top instruments, where the sample has to be sent to the lab for analysis.
The MEMS spectrometer is composed of complete system components such as the MEMS interferometer, photo-detector, light source, as well as the chips. Due to the small form factor of the device, it can be easily integrated with the Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). The new MEMS spectrometer is expected to bring even more exciting applications in the future in the field of elemental and material analysis.
Advances in MEMS are improving the gaming experience as well. A host of products such as acceleration, inertial, and orientation sensors together recognize the gesture of the user and enable an interactive gaming experience in applications such as dancing and tennis. In a recent development of this application, smart gloves have been designed with the help of orientation sensors to aid in recuperating the hand movement.
As consumer electronics gets loaded with high-performance devices, the stress on energy efficiency is growing. Piezoelectric MEMS devices are being continuously researched to develop energy harvesters that can independently power the devices without batteries. The vibrational energy is utilized by the piezoelectric MEMS to derive power. The MEMS energy harvester will follow the complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) fabrication technology and adopt the developments in related technologies such Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) and Very-large-scale integration (VLSI). The interest in energy harvesting devices is growing due to their ability to provide reliable power and develop self-sufficient energy systems for low-power, portable, and consumer electronic devices. Among all applications, MEMS energy harvesters will be a noble application to look forward to.
MEMS microphones are increasingly finding application across smartphones, cars, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), speech recognition, digital assistants, and so on. Due to their significant performance demonstration over the traditional electret condenser microphone (ECM), the MEMS microphone is in demand in the market. Among other reasons, a high signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), lower energy consumption, smaller form factor, and the ease of integration with mobile devices prove to be positive factors for the device. Moreover, MEMS microphones demonstrate a superior noise cancellation capability, higher resistance to radio frequency (RF) interference, and electromagnetic interference. Hence, the MEMS microphone has quickly emerged as the preferred device for integration with consumer electronics, which is one of the major end-user verticals for the MEMS market.
MEMS devices have also penetrated into optoelectronics applications such as pico-projectors, autofocus, and other imaging applications. Generally, a multi-axis scanning mirror is employed along with three-color laser diodes and a video processor to project the video. Because of the small form factor, the device can be easily integrated into several mobile devices. Recently, interactive projections capability has started being integrated into devices such as robotics and home automation as a user interface option. Interactive projections will utilize the signals reflected back from the laser and process the user command accordingly.
Developments in MEMS devices have been significant due to several factors. These include advances in processing technologies, Mega Trends such as higher usage of consumer electronics, and the recent high tide in the Internet of Things (IoT). The trend of addressing new applications is rising steadily, and we can expect more product and applications in the near future. Therefore, the MEMS market is all set to grow even stronger, with an increasing number of product innovations.