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Experts discuss opportunity and threat on MEMS components

17 Mar 2014  | Peter Clarke

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But within these categories, some sensor counts are increasing. Microphones are going from one up to as many as five to help with noise cancellation and improved audio. At the same time, Eloy described the trend towards sensor hubs with local processing. "The sensor hub microcontroller is a coming trend. The calculation was all done on the apps processor. Now Bosch, ST, InvenSense have launched hubs," Eloy told the audience.

Teemu Ramo, senior manager of audio hardware at Nokia Lumia, now part of Microsoft, agreed saying that Nokia sees interest in "Kinect-style" gesture recognition and also in microphone arrays.

Yannick Levy, vice president of corporate business development at French consumer electronics company Parrot SA, took the role of the MEMS user on the panel and started with a demonstration of a Parrot quad-copter drone. "A drone is a flying mobile phone. We ended up with 10 sensors to locate the drone in space; a mix of gyros, accelerometers and pressure sensor as barometer."

Moderator Roland Helm then asked the panellists to get more specific about whether there would be one hub or multiple hubs inside mobile equipment. The consensus was that multiple hubs would develop around sets of sensors, so optical functions close to the CMOS image sensor will naturally group together and be manipulated with an image processor; pressure, temperature and humidity form an environment cluster, inertial sensors form a motion cluster.

"I like hubs; it allows modular solutions that can be bought from the market," said Ramo. "We don't know all the opportunities [there are to make applications] so it makes sense to have hubs."

Eloy was clear that wearables are the near-term opportunity and that the IoT needs more time for markets and market-enabling standards to emerge. "What is IoT? It is a big name for many things that are not well defined. We need more time for that."

Parrot's Levy made the point that while wearables that talk to the smartphone are a hot topic and a likely opportunity for many MEMS component vendors, in the near term any individual device could be short-lived. If it finds success in the market, it will likely be swallowed up into a next-generation smartphone.

Levy made the point that right now there are lots of fitness wearables that communicate with a smartphone, but such functionality could be easily added to the smartphone just as camera functions have. He offered a statistic to illustrate the growing influence of the smartphone in the chip market; two or three years ago the smartphone was responsible for 12 per cent of the semiconductor market and it is now responsible for about 24 per cent.

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