MEMS Goes Mainstream

Chip Design Magazine
By Cheryl Coupé

Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) are well known for enabling innovative capabilities for devices that range from vehicles and gaming to smartphones and tablets—and increasingly in personal health and fitness, security, and environmental applications. As stacked die become more popular, they also will become part of the integration challenge that chipmakers will wrestle with as they seek to build customized chips for very specific market slices.

For device makers—the companies defining the specs for these new SoCs—understanding MEMS will be a requirement. Today’s smartphones already have as many as 14 sensor types, many based on MEMS technology. And there are often multiple sensors as well: the iPhone 5 has four MEMS microphones, which enable better voice and recording quality as well as capabilities such as noise reduction and voice recognition.

Smartphones typically include an accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope and pressure sensor, which, when used together, allow the accurate computation of the linear and angular position, velocity, acceleration and altitude of the device. The accelerometer—along with other sensors such as ambient light and proximity sensors—also can be used for system power savings by hibernating the CPU when the device is in a purse or pocket or is lying still on a desk. And combinations of sensors support new innovations in gesture recognition, health monitoring, contextual awareness, location-based services and augmented-reality applications.

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