We announced the release of the latest version of our MEMS+ design platform this week, MEMS+ 6.0. This release contains many new features and performance improvements that existing customers will appreciate as well as new capabilities that address key challenges of integrating MEMS with IoT devices. There’s far too much to talk about in one blog, so we will focus this one on why MEMS are critical to IoT and the key MEMS/IoT integration challenges MEMS+ 6.0 addresses. Subsequent blogs will expand on each of these challenges and our solutions.
First, let’s talk about the IoT, or Internet of Things. Unless you’ve been marooned on a remote island for a few years, you know that the IoT is the tech topic du jour, subject of much hype as well as growing reality. The IoT spans a wide range of technologies, including smart devices that interact with their environment, wireless technologies, internet infrastructure, big data, cloud infrastructure, software infrastructure, and software applications. It is widely acknowledged that low-cost sensors in general and MEMS in particular are a key enabler if not a defining characteristic of IoT. A recent McKinsey report titled The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype states: “We define IoT as sensors and actuators connected by networks to computing systems. These systems can monitor or manage the health and actions of connected objects and machines. Connected sensors can also monitor the natural world, people, and animals.” The report goes on to say, under the topic of technology enablers: “Low-cost, low-power sensors are essential, and the price of MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) sensors, which are used in smartphones, has dropped by 30 to 70 percent in the past five years.” The smart phones that most of us now keep with us 24/7 epitomize the first of many new IoT devices. They are packed with sensors, most notably MEMS motion sensors (accelerometers and gyroscopes) and MEMS microphones, and connect to the internet. Without MEMS, there would be no IoT or certainly less IoT.
For the now, say the next couple years, most IoT devices will be designed around available MEMS-based packaged parts with digital interfaces. The integration of the MEMS sensing elements with surrounding analog/mixed-signal (A/MS) electronics will be handled by the MEMS suppliers and the IoT designers only have to deal with sensor integration at the digital design and software/firmware levels. Looking ahead though, say three years and beyond, it’s a safe bet that market demands and competitive pressures will require IoT devices with lower cost, smaller size, lower power and higher performance. All those good things can only happen with a higher level of multi-technology integration at the package, wafer and die levels. There will be more MEMS devices on each die and more integration of MEMS and A/MS through wafer bonding. And there will be more integration of multiple technologies such as MEMS, A/MS, digital logic, memory and RF within a package through tried-and-true wire bonding and evolving through-silicon-via (TSV) technology. Developers of high-volume consumer IoT devices will lead the charge, but sooner or later the higher package-level integration demands will reach all market segments. For this increasing package-level integration to come to pass, IoT developers will require the sophisticated MEMS integration like the solutions that Coventor offers.
Here are the three key MEMS/IoT integration challenges that MEMS+ 6.0 addresses:
- Provide a robust design flow for including MEMS in system designs in the MathWorks environment and circuit design in the Cadence environment;
- Provide a platform for MEMS Process Design Kits (PDKs) to accelerate growth of the fabless/fab-lite business model for MEMS; and
- Accurately predicting packaging effects on MEMS sensors (see my recent editorial in Chip Scale Review on this topic).
I’ll expand on each of these challenges and how MEMS+ 6.0 addresses them in future blogs.