Using MEMS IMUs, AHRSs and GNSS for Advanced Precision Agriculture

By Marcel van Hak, Product Manager, Xsens

Agricultural vehicles are getting smarter every day and that is largely because of motion tracking, achieved with Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs), Attitude and Heading Reference Systems (AHRSs) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) positioning systems. Where IMUs provide inertial data such as acceleration and rate of turn, AHRSs also incorporate a sensor fusion algorithm to provide orientation. A third category consists of combined IMU/GNSS or AHRS/GNSS systems that provide the highest level of integration. The features and accuracies have different consequences for the overall system and target performance. What are the best design choices for specific applications such as autonomous navigation, stabilization and drones?



While GNSS is widely used in autonomous navigation, it has its downsides when used as standalone technology. GNSS heading is optimal as long as the platform is in a (linear) motion. In most case, you will need to make a turn of exactly 180 degrees at the edges of the field. This cannot be determined by GNSS alone as GNSS heading information cannot be extracted from a rotational motion alone. The heading information can, however, be provided by an IMU or an AHRS. Many IMUs, AHRSs and GNSSs allow integration or can be sourced as an integrated, turnkey system. When the choice is made for a separate GNSS system and a separate IMU or AHRS, the goals must be to choose systems with solid time-synchronization and low latency in order to keep the system stable and accurate.


Using GNSS systems on slopes (as in the slope of the field) holds some challenges. With a height of several meters and antenna placement on top of the vehicle, the actual position of the agricultural tools on the ground differs from the antenna (measured) position when driving on a slope. This discrepancy is almost 10 cm per 1 meter vehicle height at a 5 degree inclination of the vehicle. In order to reap all the benefits of an expensive GNSS positioning system, you will also need an AHRS to compensate for the inclination. A low-cost AHRS with 0.5 degrees roll/pitch accuracy will already compensate sufficiently for the inclination, preserving the position accuracy.

Another use of IMUs and AHRS is steering compensation on a slope or incline. When the vehicle is rolled (i.e., parallel to the incline), the vehicle will steer down if power is applied to the wheels equally. The ‘lower’ wheel must be powered more in order to maintain a straight heading. For this, the incline must be known, and devices with costs of below 100 USD can supply accurate enough roll/pitch estimations for these kind of applications. Watch the video here. 


There are two reasons why IMUs and AHRS (with our without GNSS) increase the efficiency of agricultural drones over a full-size airplane or ground vehicle, particularly when it comes to spraying crops. First, with laser scanners it is possible to choose the individual plants that need a little more care. Second, a drone can fly much lower than a regular airplane, wasting less fertilizer or pesticides due to wind or inaccurate placement. An IMU or AHRS, with or without GNSS, is an invaluable resource for navigation, stabilization of the drone and the correction of the laser scanner measurements. Special vibration-resistant gyroscopes are required for good performance.

IMUs, AHRS and combo IMU/GNSS systems are getting more common in all topics of agriculture. You can find the main players in the field by doing an internet search on precision agriculture and IMUs.

Smart sensors: the key to precision agricultural production

Read this article on the Electronic Products website!

Without new technological approaches to agriculture, the prospect of meeting the nutritional requirements of the world population in 2050 is daunting

Chief Strategy Officer,
MEMS & Sensors Industry Group

According to the United Nations, 9.6 billion people will live on planet Earth by 2050. Feeding these mouths will require simultaneously meeting three great needs: quantity, environmental, and cultural. The World Resources Institute (WRI) forecasts that we will have to close the gap of approximately 70% between the amount of food we have today and the amount needed by 2050. We will also need to reduce agriculture’s impact on climate, ecosystems, and water. Finally, we will need to ensure that agriculture supports inclusive economic and social development.

For IBM Researcher and Distinguished Engineer Ulisses Mello and a team of IBM Research − Brazil scientists, the answer to these daunting challenges lies in real-time data gathering and analysis. They are researching how “precision agriculture” techniques and technologies can maximize food production, minimize environmental impact, and reduce cost.

What is “precision agriculture?” Consider that, traditionally, agriculture is practiced by performing a particular task, such as planting or harvesting, against a predetermined schedule. But by collecting real-time data on weather, soil and air quality, crop maturity, and even equipment, labor costs, and availability, agriculturists can use predictive analytics to make smarter decisions. The latter, more technological process is what’s meant by “precision agriculture.”

With precision agriculture, control centers collect and process data in real time to help farmers make the best decisions with regard to planting, fertilizing, and harvesting crops. They place sensors throughout the fields to measure the temperature and humidity of the soil and the surrounding air. In addition, these control centers take pictures of fields using satellite imagery and robotic drones.

Until now, larger companies were better suited to precision agriculture technologies because these technologies require a robust IT infrastructure and resources to do the monitoring. However, Mello believes that cloud-enabled technologies will lower the entry barrier to allow smaller farms and co-ops to use mobile devices and crowdsourcing to optimize their own agriculture. “A farmer could take a picture of a crop with his phone and upload it to a database, where an expert could assess the maturity of the crop based on its coloring and other properties,” said Mello. “People could provide their own reading on temperature and humidity to substitute for sensor data, if none is available.”

The MEMS & Sensors Industry Group (MSIG) is keenly interested in the connection between sensors and their use in helping to address major world problems, such as hunger, environmental issues, and healthcare access. In fact, MSIG anticipates that by the year 2020, more than a trillion sensors (TSensors) will populate these wide-ranging applications. But using sensors to help feed billions of humans will require water and soil management, precision agriculture, and improvements in crop yields and quality.

IoT red and ripe
One agriculture-related Internet of Things project worth mentioning, “The Internet of Tomatoes,” is being driven by the smaller farming community. Members of MSIG conceived this project at the 2014 MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress, when keynote speaker Francis Gouillart, president and co-founder of the Experience Co-Creation Partnership, threw down a challenge to the audience. He called upon audience members to collect data along the tomato Ag-Food value chain through the use of sensor-based, IoT technologies. He exhorted these conference attendees to engage all of the tomato value chain’s stakeholders, or actors, in a data-driven dialogue aimed at transforming the overall quality of the finished tomato product. Through “co-creation,” he envisioned improving the efficiency of growing, distributing, processing, and retailing those tomatoes.

IoT of Tomatoes pic

Fig. 1: At the heart of the Internet of Tomatoes Project is a sensor-based system to measure the quality of the popular red produce. Source: ADI.

Analog Devices (ADI) eagerly accepted the challenge and has been working with Gouillart and the entire farm-to-table supply chain ever since. ADI is developing the core technology through its Fenway development platform (Fig. 1), which includes several of the company’s proprietary sensors and a microcontroller. ADI is also leveraging multiple technical agreements or partnerships with other companies. In fact, ADI recently announced an agreement with Consumer Physics, which offers SCiO, a molecular sensing device being integrated into the “Internet of Tomatoes” approach. ADI also provides the rapid-prototyping team needed to constantly adapt the technology to the needs of tomato farmers and other value-chain players in various parts of the world.

The Internet of Tomatoes project provides a neutral, transparent, data-driven view of productivity and quality along the tomato chain that will lead the various actors to different, mutually beneficial choices, thereby leading to a transformation of the entire value chain and fostering the development and sales of the enabling technologies and associated services.

De-stressing plants
Another small company, the Swiss-based PlantCare AG, offers the “world’s first self-learning irrigation computer that intelligently evaluates the measurements from up to 60 wirelessly linked soil moisture sensors.” PlantCare AG’s system (Fig. 2) uses sensors to ensure that plants grow in a stress-free way: they receive enough water, but not too much, which also makes them less disease-prone and more pest-resistant. With drought conditions being a pervasive threat in numerous global regions, conserving water provides a more sustainable approach to irrigation.

PlantCare AG System

Fig. 2: PlantCare AG’s system aims to control the growth environment — moisture, chemistry/fertilizer, and other factors — so that produce undergoes less environmental stress from seeding to harvest. Source: PlantCare AG.

If water, sun, and nutritious pest-free soil are the basic fundamental building blocks of farming, then let’s not forget the bees. Pollinators are necessary for one-third of all crops that are used directly for food worldwide. But the last decade has been hard on them, reducing their numbers year after year. Bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) contributed to a loss of 42% of the bee population in 2015.

Apiologists — honeybee researchers — attribute CCD to multiple sources, including parasites, viruses, and pesticides. The primary parasitic suspects are mites, which infect and destroy honeybee colonies. Eltopia Communications’ Intelligent Foundation platform, code-named MiteNot, uses multiple sensors, an MCU, and power management components from STMicroelectronics to monitor and collect data on environmental conditions and to eliminate parasites that contribute to honeybee CCD. The platform is a compostable film that senses the lifecycle of the bees and parasites. The solution then interacts with the colony to apply targeted heat to sterilize the mites without harming the bees and without pesticides. A quick search on the internet reveals other projects that sense beehive conditions and projects in which sensors are fitted on the backs of bees.

Herd maternity
On the cattle front, various sensors are being deployed to monitor animal health, optimum mating times, pregnancy detection, and birthing times. One such device, Moocall (Fig. 3), is a non-invasive, tail-mounted sensor that gathers over 600 pieces of data per second. It can accurately predict when a cow is most likely to give birth by measuring tail movement patterns triggered by labor contractions. When these tail movements reach a certain level of intensity over time, Moocall then sends an SMS text alert directly to a cell phone, on average one hour prior to calving.

Cow Monitor

Fig. 3: Designed to be mounted on a cow’s tail, the Moocall sensor gathers and transmits data about tail movements, which indicates when a cow is going into labor. This data is used to signal a farmer at such a time when he or she needs to become actively involved. Source: Moocall.

All of the preceding examples illustrate how technologists are, thankfully, addressing the task of solving world hunger and quality food for all, from the top to the bottom of the food chain. Even so, everyone must work toward common-sense ways of individually living our lives in harmony with Earth’s ecosystem. Besides our own sense of what’s right and needed, in the future we might also be able to call upon the use of billions, and maybe trillions, of sensors (seeMSIG’s TSensors Initiative) to tell us what is going on in the soil, water, air, crops, and livestock. With the help of precision farming, we can be a lot smarter about ensuring that there’s food on the table in 2050.

Learn more about MEMS & Sensors Industry Group


Semi Comes to Silicon Valley

Once a year, the semiconductor industry returns to its roots when Semicon West holds its annual tradeshow in Moscone Center in July. This year, Sensors Expo – another perennial destination for the “More than Moore” community – held its annual show in San Jose. Concurrent with the Semicon West show was Shape, a major IoT and Wearable show hosted by AT&T (and held at AT&T Park.) Look at the entire year’s calendar and the Bay Area looks like a field of tornados for sensors, wearables, hardware incubators, conferences and innovation. And the interest in IoT and Wearable Electronics is not limited to Silicon Valley – a huge amount of interest was palpable for what is going on in the China ecosystem and startup environment, and SITRI was glad to be able to talk about these trends, initiatives and future outlook.

These shows are also a great opportunity to meet with friends and colleagues across the industry, and learn about the progress being made in all segments. We were glad to see the interest in SITRI’s progress as well — our Silicon Valley office up and running, startup teams using our space to grow their business, the growing portfolio of resources and services that SITRI has available, and the progress on our “More than Moore” fab as a key element for new silicon technology development, integration and ramp to production across MEMS, sensors, RF, power, opto and more.

Peter Himes at Semicon West 2016

Peter Himes speaks at Semicon West on the state of China’s IoT ecosystem at the MEMS and Sensors Industry Group’s Advanced Manufacturing Forum. The major theme of his talk was on the need to address the complete IoT value stack in order to nurture an effective ecosystem, and how the resources SITRI is establishing can serve the interests of the global MEMS and Sensor industry. Other speakers included Yole Developpement on the future of integrated sensors; AMFitzgerald & Associates discussing new MEMS technologies on the horizon; MCube on advances in processing and packaging to shrink footprint without sacrificing performance; and ams and Bosch Sensortec on their expanding capabilities in sensor technologies and how applications guide solutions.




MSIG Member Vesper Gives Us 25 Years of MEMS

Ever wondered what our industry was like before MEMS devices began shipping by the billions in smartphones? And what could have inspired automotive manufacturers to use accelerometers in crash-detection airbags? A true MEMS industry veteran, Craig Core of MEMS & Sensors Industry Group Member Company Vesper, was there “back in the day” when a small team of intrepid engineers paved the way for the first major successes of the commercial MEMS industry.

Craig’s article, “MEMS Movement, 25 Years Later,” ran in EE Times last month. Read the full article here:

Japan Hits the Hard Reset Button on IoT Growth

View this blog post on the DesignNews website here!

By Karen Lightman, MEMS & Sensors Industry Group

I have been going to Japan on a somewhat regular basis since 2009. I first started going while the world was reeling from the economic realignment of the late 2000s. And I visited both before and after the devastating tsunami/earthquake/nuclear disaster of 2011. In all honesty, I sensed a feeling of depression among the Japanese regarding the country’s economic future, particularly their perception of their country’s future in semiconductors and MEMS.

Wow — has Japan changed. I felt I was visiting a new land on my most recent trip to Tokyo in May 2016 as an invited speaker at MEMS Engineer Forum (MEF). I experienced a vibrancy and energy and confidence that I’d never seen before. There was talk of a startup community, and investors identified MEMS as a great opportunity for the future. The number of women speaking as well as those in the audience was truly impressive. All of these things are part of the “new Japan” that I witnessed.

MEF also welcomed the still-active stalwarts who helped build the MEMS industry in Japan and the rest of the world. They include the chairs of the MEF: Professor Hiroki Kuwano, Professor Masayoshi Esashi, Mr. Susumu Kaminaga, and Professor Naoto Kobayashi. Of these four pillars of MEMS in Japan, Professor Esashi is one of the “grandfathers” of MEMS. Professor Esashi received the IEEE Andrew S. Grove Award in 2015, and most recently the IEEE Jun-ichi Nishizawa Medal in 2016. Under the management of Susumu Kaminaga, Surface Technology Systems (STS) pioneered the development and commercialization of Deep Reactive Ion Etching (DRIE) technology based on the Bosch Process. DRIE technology has enabled the MEMS world to expand rapidly in the last decades in products such as the iPhone and other consumer devices, airbags, and much more.

Masayoshi Esashi and Karen Lightman during a recent trip to Japan.

Masayoshi Esashi and Karen Lightman during a recent trip to Japan.

While the primary theme of MEF 2016 was “Smart Cities,” there were several sub-themes that echoed throughout my two days at the conference. It was clear that the deadly earthquake in 2011, along with Japan’s aging population (and the need for robotic assistance) as well as the country’s high debt, have created opportunities for collaboration between the MEMS industry and academia. Through tragedy and struggle, Japan has been able to hit the “hard reset button” and change the way they were doing business for decades (if not centuries). The Japanese have come together to provide the pipeline for innovation to develop technology from research and development in order to take advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT), which includes smart cities.

At MEF, there were presentations from the full supply chain of MEMS, from materials and equipment suppliers to device manufacturers, integrators and end users — as well as research and development, and academia. A little over one-third of the talks were from non-Japanese companies/institutes, including Yole Développement; University of California, Irvine; Fraunhofer ENAS; Bosch; CEA-Leti; VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland; InvenSense; National Tsing Hua University; and the Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology.

A wide range of Japanese speakers from multi-billion corporations such as Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), Hitachi, DENSO, and Toyota, as well as small companies such as Yaguchi Electric also participated. And I was seriously impressed by the Development Bank of Japan’s presentation.

Many MEF speakers discussed the biggest trends in IoT including autonomous vehicles, robotics drones, and healthcare. The maturation and commercialization of artificial intelligence (AI) in many applications, including the use of AI for medical diagnosis and treatment, was especially exciting.

Word of the new startup community in Japan and as well as calls by Dr. Yang Ishigaki of Yaguchi Electric for an “Oasis” — an open, free commons where researchers can connect through open source — created a ton of buzz among attendees. Mr. Yaguchi shared an example of his crowdsourced chemical sensor and a “cool cooler” that, again, was crowdsourced. I was equally thrilled by the videos and case studies that Dr. Takahiro Nakayama from Toyota presented on Human Support Robots (HSR) that assist people in daily life. I’ve heard that by 2025 many of us will have a robot in the room, and clearly Toyota wants to be a leader in this field.

Often when we hear about IoT, it’s described as though it’s some far off place, an Emerald City that doesn’t really exist. Through my first-hand experience in Japan at MEF focused on the issue of smart cities, it’s clear to me that the IoT is real and that the Japanese are amply prepared for it and are executing on it today. With the Japanese ramping their activity in MEMS and sensors, we will get that much closer to the goal of a Trillion Sensors by 2020.

I am thrilled for the Japanese and look forward to my next opportunity to visit Japan and bear witness to their transformation. For a look at the presentation I gave at MEF, download it (free)!

[image via Karen Lightman]


Check out the finalists for MEMS & Sensors Technology Showcase at MEMS Executive Congress 2015

By Karen Lightman, Executive Director, MEMS Industry Group

Back in 2001 when I was a young mother with a baby in diapers, I dreamed of a MEMS-enabled gizmo (perhaps on her diaper?) that would remotely indicate if my daughter was sleeping. She was (and still is) a restless sleeper, and I had many nights where I tip-toed into her room to ensure that she was breathing and yes, indeed, still alive in her crib, only to then accidentally wake her up. Sigh… This was way before WiFi, Bluetooth and MEMS sensors at a price point that would legitimize such a gadget. But I was a sleep-deprived mother who yearned for some peace of mind that my baby was safe and comfortable, so that I could get some rest, too.

Now, 14 years later, there is an even better device for young parents that I couldn’t have imagined –MonBaby Breathing and Rollover Monitor. I’m honored that MonBaby will be participating in the annual crowd-pleasing favorite, MEMS & Sensors Technology Showcase at the 11th annual MEMS Executive Congress US 2015, on November 4. According to the company, with MonBaby, anxious parents can sleep more soundly with the award-winning baby monitor that snaps like a button onto any article of a child’s clothing. MonBaby gives new parents peace of mind and helps them to sleep better knowing that they will receive an audible alarm on their smartphone if the baby rolls onto his or her stomach during sleep or stops breathing. Now the question is, can they make something similar for my teenage daughter who is a now a freshman in high school?

I am looking forward to meeting the inventors of MonBaby, as well as the other four contestants in MEMS & Sensors Technology Showcase, including the uber-cool Bosch eBike Systems. Robert Bosch GmbH promises that with their new eBike, peddling up that big hill may soon get a lot easier, because they are now working with various cycling brands to create electric pedal-assist bikes sold at independent bicycle shops throughout North America. Bosch eBike Systems boosts a cyclist’s human power with electric power at speeds up to 20 mph. The core components that give Bosch eBike Systems cyclists that “tailwind” feeling are a Bosch microprocessor and three sensors that measure a bicyclist’s torque, cadence and wheel speed 1,000 times per second. I can’t wait to try it out for a spin in Napa. (BTW, that is where MEMS Executive Congress is being held!)

Another cool contestant is the Voltafield Magnetic Sensor, which promises to be the new key component for e-compass and motion sensing in wearables. The makers of Voltafield’s ultra-low power miniature magnetic sensor are hoping that their chip’s Anisotropic Magneto-Resistive (AMR) sensor technology — which reduces by 10x the power consumption of a traditional Hall magnetic sensor — is the clear answer. Voltafield integrates 3-axis magnetic sensors and signal conditioning circuits on monolithic silicon together with Wafer Level Chip Scale Package (WLCSP) to form a software programmable 1.1mm x 1.1mm device. Clearly, they hope to revolutionize the wearable world – and honestly, the potential goes way beyond wearables: Everything needs to consume less power these days!

I am also really intrigued by Horse Sense Shoes – which reminds me of a Dr. Doolittle creation enabled by MEMS. Horse Sense Shoes has developed an equestrian wearable that is making understanding horse health possible. They feature non-invasive, Freescale Semiconductor MEMS multi-sensor devices, which are typically accelerometers and pressure sensors that can measure weight variations and motion patterns as informational indicators on the status and health of the horse. Residing under the horse’s hooves, these MEMS sensors can detect joint problems, laminitis or lameness early enough for effective treatment, potentially saving a horse’s life. Again, this has huge implications for all large (and small) animals. Doesn’t the US spend $60B on pet products each year? I am sure there are tons of folks who would spend the money on a wearable for Fido, too.

And last but not least, is Cambridge CMOS Sensors Gas Sensor (the CCS811), which offers a breath of fresh air in a tiny ultra-low power device. This metal oxide gas sensor co-packaged with a micro controller unit delivers a self-contained solution for assessing air quality in indoor environments. Whether embedded in a smartphone or integrated into a standalone device, CCS811 generates alerts to provide intuitive ways to evaluate air quality, opening up new application areas for improved health and wellbeing such as ambient air quality monitoring and breathe analysis in smartphones, tablets, wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This minute device has massive potential for enabling myriad applications that will have a positive impact on our world.

So I hope you’ll join me soon in Napa, CA. for MEMS Executive Congress US November 4-6 to check out these contestants in the Tech Showcase. Only one will be crowned a winner. Whom would you pick?
Check out our website for more information:

Moore and More than Moore as a foundation for Even More.

Stephen Whalley, Chief Strategy Officer, MEMS Industry Group

Having spent 30+ years in various aspects of the mainstream semiconductor industry, it was certainly an interesting change when I delved into MEMS and sensors a mere five years ago.  I was hooked when I saw my first chip photograph of an accelerometer – so much more simple than a multi billion transistor microprocessor – yet none the less a feat of engineering, manufacturing and wonder.  And then when you see what an accelerometer, gyro and magnetometer can do buried away in a smart phone; unleashing a vast potential in new applications that were once just destined for military, aerospace, automotive and other industrial applications, it quickly draws you in further.

The excitement about MEMS and sensors continues to grow in me five years on.  Unlike the cyclical nature of the semiconductor business driven by the ups and downs of PCs, servers, memories and the general economy, the MEMS and sensor industry has seen steady double digit growth for the past decade.  This growth has been fueled by smart phones, ink jet printers, game controllers, automotive and the catch all Internet of Everything.  While it’s been a great ride so far, the best is yet to come for MEMS and sensors.  There does not seem to be a new category of devices launched these days without some form of sensing capability built in.  Wearables, personal health devices, environmental sensing, food and agriculture technologies, clean energy sources, drones, autonomous vehicles, smart buildings, smart cities and smart everything essentially means sensing is exploding.

Before I get too carried away with myself though on the opportunities, there are challenges ahead not surprisingly in markets this big.  Many of these challenges have been faced and overcome before though in the semiconductor business.  Challenges such as all that comes with keeping pace with Moore’s Law, standards and best known methods for process repeatability and scaling, advanced packaging and testing, lower power, security, interoperability and monolithic systems on a chip to name just a few.  While there are many diverse aspects of these two industries, common challenges certainly exist that would benefit from a sharing of learnings and a coming together of the supply chains where relevant to work on scaling for growth together.  “More than Moore” efforts are underway around the world but I am not sure if the Moore and the More than Moore brethren are coming together anymore (if they ever did) or perhaps we have all succumbed to less is more doctrine these days.  OK, no more of that!  Suffice to say, it might be a small step but MEMS Industry Group and SEMI have been collaborating in this area since the Spring of this year and have a task force in place addressing some of the issues above.

Now, back to the opportunities and the exciting things happening with sensors in a multitude of different markets.  Beyond the continued growth in the general consumer electronics and industrial markets that is driving volume today, it’s clear there is a vast array of emerging applications that we need to pay attention to, some of which are mentioned above.  There is also a rising tide in 3D printing and ultimately large area printing of processors, sensors, radios, power sources and passive components.  Add to that sensing capability in smart fibers and we have a textile base that could usher in dramatic new capabilities in our home, transport and work environments.  And all this could be a reality in the next few years.

Multiple visions have emerged for a trillion sensors (TSensors) market, with the largest forecasting 100 trillion sensors by 20301. The explosive connectivity growth of “all things” is obviously not just about the hardware however; it’s also about the explosion of sensor-driven data, which Datafloq predicts will reach brontobytes in the 2020s. Such volume of data creates unprecedented business opportunities for data generation (sensors), services, analytics and visualization.

The promise of trillions of sensors clearly excites the juices of sensor supply chain executives.  There is also something else for all of us to get excited about in this future.  In 2012 Bestselling Author Peter Diamandis, founder of XPrize Foundation and Singularity University, co-wrote the book Abundance – The Future is Better than You Think. In this book, Diamandis introduced the concept of “Abundance,” the utopian vision for a world with no hunger, no pollution, affordable medical care and clean energy for all.  Remarkably, claims Diamandis, Abundance is expected to come in just about 20 years, enabled mainly by eight exponential technologies producing goods and services on Earth faster than the global demand. One of those technologies is connected sensors.

Will just identifying the road to massive device units, data and revenue allow us to tackle our greatest humanitarian issues? Clearly not.  These high-level visions need to be turned into bite-sized action items for sub-markets such as environmental sensors, gas and optical sensors, biosensors for unobtrusive health sensing, ultra-high-volume low-cost sensors and electronics — made possible by roll to roll printing capabilities on a mass scale not yet seen and other enabling technologies.

MEMS Industry Group in conjunction with MEPCOM (the organization that runs MEPTEC) plans to take a deeper dive into the mechanisms that will spawn the trillion sensors required to help us attain Abundance during TSensors Summit, Dec 9-10,, 2015 in Orlando Florida.  More than 30 leading technology experts from around the world will begin to put the pieces together of the roadmap that will lead us to TSensors.  Why not join us on this exciting journey to a trillion sensors and put Moore’s Law and More than Moore into action for Even More.

1 2014 vision from Foundation for Economic Trends

2 and



MEMS Technology Transfer and the Fable of the ‘Golden Wafer’

By Karen Lightman, Executive Director, MEMS Industry Group

You’ve probably heard Aesop’s fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs. In MEMS technology transfer, there is a similar fable — one of the illusive “golden wafer.” It was a term coined by Alissa Fitzgerald, founder/managing member of AMFitzgerald and Associates. The golden wafer fixation happens when an engineer makes one great wafer in the lab and tries in earnest to replicate it, to no avail.

Like all good fables, there’s always a moral to the story. For MEMS technology transfer, when trying to get from lab to fab to high-yield production, the moral of the story is that you can’t go it alone and that there are resources available to help you. According to Mary Ann Maher, CEO and founder of SoftMEMS, “previously, tech transfer was a major stumbling block for startups where they may run out of money while trying to get out their first prototypes due to unrealistic expectations and lack of good communications on both sides of the transfer. Now, the situation is improving, with a well-connected supply chain, the use of standards and CAD tools, standard unit processes, and realistic timelines… companies are starting to get though the tech transfer phase faster and with more success.”

One resource that my organization, MEMS Industry Group, is building in collaboration with our members is the Tech Transfer Wikia, which will be a “how- to” of best practices for taking a MEMS device design — including designs developed at a commercial fab, university, or startup — to manufacturing using an external partner. This wikia is planned to go live on Sept. 5 and will be open to the general MEMS community and, just like Wikipedia, the general public. And we welcome feedback and engagement.

For the wikia, the transfer could either be fab-to-fab or line-to-line. The wikia may consider designs that work at the system level (and are proven) and can be built with confidence, with priority given to the transfer of “high-yield designs” (with predictability, repeatability) over prototypes, processes, or design concepts. For the wikia to be useful, some level of proof that the design is viable for production is required, and users must keep in mind that yield/cost requirements can vary significantly depending on application and segment and that a low-volume, high-cost product doesn’t need the same level of maturity as a high-volume consumer product.

Challenges and Opportunities

As I’ve stated before in my Design News column, MEMS is not for the faint of heart, and it is not without its challenges. Tomas Bauer, VP of sales for Silex, believes that “MEMS tech transfer is a challenge today mainly due to the extreme tool and design dependency of a MEMS process. Even transfer between tools of the same kind can be challenging enough due to unique characteristics of each individual tool build of the same make and model.” Fitzgerald of AMFitzgerald and Associates cautioned that “tech transfer has always been a challenge and will continue to be until there are more standards for how MEMS are designed and processed and for how data is exchanged between designers and foundries.”

But with challenges there are always opportunities. Industry veteran Jim Knutti, president of Acuity, believes that the “huge variety of opportunities in different markets means successful commercialization requires understanding the specific considerations, requirements, and language in all of these different areas.” He cautions that the challenge is to “understand all of the moving parts and to be prepared to provide complete details in a lot of technologies and background to suppliers.” No small task, indeed.

David Horsley, CTO of Chirp Microsystems, believes that there are many opportunities for MEMS as “high-volume MEMS devices (gyroscopes, accelerometers, microphones, pressure sensors…) have created a lot of know-how in the industry, from foundry, to packaging, to test, etc. Many of these things can be adapted to new product introduction (instead of inventing your own solution from scratch).”

It’s always better to learn from the mistakes of others. So going back to the moral of this story, in order to do MEMS tech transfer successfully, you can’t count on your goose to lay the golden wafers but instead you must make friends in the MEMS supply chain and use the guidebook in this case, the MEMS Industry Group’s Tech Transfer Wikia.

MEMS in Medical Devices: Hockey-stick Growth, Standards, and the Internet of Things

MEMS Ravi Subramaniam

Ravi Subramaniam

The current, rapidly increasing use of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), the advent of an Internet of Things (IoT) and the interactive role these technologies will play in healthcare going forward will likely change the world as we know it.

That’s a bold statement. But we believe that it is supported by current market and technology trends and the quality and scale of benefits MEMS and IoT will bring to healthcare. Is there work to be done to realize this vision? Of course, and work is proceeding apace on many fronts, particularly in standards, low-power applications and data quality and security, to name a few.

Karen Lightman

Karen Lightman

In this blog, we’ll lay out our thinking on these topics, how they interrelate and provide a few ideas to spark the imagination of medical device designers.

What Are MEMS?

MEMS are miniature devices composed of integrated mechanical and electrical components that sense the physical properties of their surroundings, record and/or transmit that data and can behave as actuators to affect their environment. MEMS are already integral to highly functional, everyday technologies from smart phones, tablets, laptops, printers and wearables to pacemakers and blood pressure measurements in IV lines and catheters.

The list of existing uses is long and extends to tiny microphones, cameras, robots – even deep-sea submersibles scouring the ocean depths and the rovers now traveling on Mars. The list of possible uses is infinite, limited only by the imagination. But their use in nearly every vertical industry is either happening now or can be anticipated in the near future, including medical devices, security, telecommunications, civil aeronautics and military aerospace, data processing, industrial automation and manufacturing – you name it.

The MEMS Market
Two leading, third-party market analysis and forecasting firms have documented MEMS’ hockey stick growth since the beginning of this decade, when this technology began being integrated into consumer devices. The firm IHS documented an approximately $6 billion annual global market each year as the first decade of the 21st century came to a close. The market has exploded since 2010 to this year’s expected $10 billion annual global sales. IHS forecasts a 10 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for MEMS applications for medical uses, consumer electronics, mobile and wired communications, and a 6.5 percent CAGR across all MEMS uses. The market analysis firm Yole Développement forecasts a nearly $15 billion annual global market for all MEMS uses this year and well above $25 billion by 2020.

The Role of MEMS in Healthcare
Clearly, consumer applications are driving the fastest growth. Among consumer uses, medical applications of MEMS technology are likely to be among the fastest growing and, by definition, the most intimate to us all.

These technologies hold the promise of early detection and timely treatment of incipient illnesses such as breast cancer. MEMS-enabled medical technologies likely will allow portability of treatment, such as dialysis machines, giving patients mobility and quality-of-life rather than lengthy hospital stays or repeated visits. MEMS-enabled devices may dispense medications directly into the body, providing timely, accurate treatment.

Enter: The Internet of Things (IoT)
As thought provoking as these particular applications are, many clearly rely on connecting to a secure network so the data they produce can be analyzed and used to optimize treatment. The ultimate network may well turn out to be the IoT, which holds the promise of interconnecting our world on a vast, almost unimaginable scale. In the IoT, potentially billions of devices – and the people they serve – may benefit from cloud-based, timely analysis, optimization and intervention.

Obviously, when our bodies – the most intimate aspect of our existence – are interconnected with a vast network, the sensors, multi-path data flows on the network, analyses, and resulting actions must be of the highest integrity. “Things” connected to the IoT must talk to each other and interoperate safely and securely. Central to this interoperability is standards.

The Role of Standards
Standards typically are driven by commercial interests that recognize the role standards play in interoperability and interoperability’s value in producing economies of scale and growing markets.MEMS Industry Group (MIG) plays a key role in all these pursuits. MIG was founded in 2001 to connect participants in the supply chain, including device designers, device producers, sensor and equipment suppliers, foundries and end-users with local, regional and global markets. Today, more than 180 companies and partners have joined our efforts.

Frankly, the MEMS industry has matured with respect to the need for standards. Its early, precocious growth has given way to a longer, global view. The need for interoperability, documented performance standards and well-defined protocols has led MIG to work with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the IEEE Standards Association. The IEEE 2700 Standard for Sensor Performance Parameter Definitions, for instance, was approved and published in June 2014. This was a significant step towards unambiguously defining sensor performance. IEEE will host future work to develop sensor testing procedures that will be industry specific. Stakeholders from pertinent industries – e.g., medical, automotive, defense and consumer electronics – are encouraged to actively participate.

In recognition of the promise of and rapid growth in MEMS’ role in healthcare, MIG has formed the MEMS in Healthcare Interest Group. We welcome new members with any role in the supply chain, including the medical device design world and those who understand the role of standards in growing markets. The benefits of doing so are obvious: being involved provides not only a means to keep abreast of current developments and future directions in this burgeoning domain, but a real opportunity to help shape the future.