Smart cities of the digital future will employ systems enabled by MEMS and sensors in wide-ranging ways. From wearable sensors that monitor personal health and wellness and environmental sensors that assess air quality to autonomous micro-transit systems that are efficient and environmentally sustainable, MEMS and sensors are critically important to living in smart societies.
SEMI’s Nishita Rao spoke with Albert P. Pisano, Professor and Dean at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering ahead of his October 24 closing keynote presentation, MEMS and Systems in the Digital Future, at MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress, October 22-24, 2019, at Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa in Coronado, Calif.
Join us at MSEC to meet Albert Pisano and other industry influencers driving MEMS and sensors innovations. Registration is open.
SEMI: What are some of the most important large-scale system needs of the digital future – and why is MEMS so important in meeting these needs?
Pisano: My vision of the digital future is an optimistic one, in which technology is used to assist people in their pursuit of health and happiness. In that digital future, I expect disruption in several key industries that depend on large-scale systems enabled by MEMS – healthcare, retail, transportation and education.
Driving these disruptive forces across all four industries is the demand for more relevant real-time information, collected via inconspicuous technologies. Small in size and weight and low in power consumption, what technology other than MEMS delivers these combined attributes?
SEMI: How do you envision MEMS in smart cities? What applications and devices will change the human experience in cities?
Pisano: Smart cities, by my definition, are cities in which the four basic industries – healthcare, retail, transportation, and education – are implemented in their disrupted form.
Take healthcare, for example. The adoption of MEMS chemical sensors in a wearable format will revolutionize human health monitoring. These sensors will not only improve individual health but also mitigate the spread of disease.
In transportation, the coming of semi- or fully autonomous vehicles (as well as the general upgrading of all mass-transit vehicles) will give commuters additional time to pursue their interests while en route. A coming revolution of data connectivity to all vehicles will spur the rise of work, study and entertainment options available to people in transit. MEMS in the communication channels as well as in the vehicles will play an essential role in streaming personal data to travelers.
SEMI: Could you help us visualize a disruptive application in one of these industries, say healthcare?
Pisano: Healthcare is a particularly compelling area because MEMS offers life-enhancing, even life-saving, functionality that will significantly improve the quality of life of some people.
MEMS allows us to design consumable wearable sensors that allow individuals to unobtrusively and non-invasively obtain biochemical data, such as potassium, sodium and sugar levels in the body fluid, as well as metabolic indicators such as lactic acid. Further, MEMS-based devices can perform EKG and EEG functions as well as monitor blood pressure in deep body veins in non-medical settings. This higher level of medical-grade data (not just casual data such as an approximate number of steps taken) will allow departments of public health to identify the early onset of individual disease.
SEMI: What new forms of wireless communications will affect MEMS-enabled systems in the digital future?
Pisano: Most visions of a digital future include wireless communication, but as the spectrum becomes ever more crowded, and as the need for unregulated, negotiated spectrum access increases, we will experience greater pressure to consider other forms of communication, such as inductive, optical and sonic. MEMS sensors are the only technical alternative to these other forms of communication in that they provide acceptable SWAP (size, weight and power). This will spawn battery-powered solutions with significant operational time. A good example is wireless telemetry of human physiological data from the skin. Only MEMS technology can reduce sensor-consumed power to below one microwatt. At this low level, energy harvest from the skin itself is sufficient to power the sensor!
SEMI: How is the UCSD campus a living laboratory for intelligent sensing devices and systems?
Pisano: Progressive universities, such as the University of California San Diego, understand that they are microcosms of small cities. They have populations during the day of approximately 65,000 people, a myriad of vehicles and a concentrated group of people.
Many functions on campus mirror that of a small city. Lecture halls are similar to movie theatres. Student stores and centers are similar to shopping malls. Student residence halls are similar to apartment houses. Many campuses have medical centers, with their own emergency health services and hospitals. As a microcosm of a small city, it is only natural to think of the university as a wonderful living laboratory that allows us to test out new technologies at scale.
Clearly, autonomous transit and wearable sensors have potential for uptake in this community. And that’s just scratching the surface. Package delivery (dinner to a dorm room, perhaps?), parking-spot location assistance, and even location-independent data streaming for classroom lectures are just a few possible examples of applications that we can test in a university environment.
SEMI: How can the MEMS and sensors industry help researchers and innovators realize the digital future?
Pisano: As a MEMS practitioner for almost 30 years, I fully understand the need to focus at the device level to ensure that the MEMS design meets SWAP and other requirements. But I truly believe that MEMS designers must learn to think more about subsystem and system issues, since the future of MEMS will be won by those who cannot only design the device right, but who can design the right device. By taking a much more market- and system-oriented approach to MEMS design thinking, companies in this industry will realize greater success.
Albert P. Pisano, Ph.D., began his service as Dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering in 2013. He holds the Walter J. Zable Chair in Engineering and serves on the faculty of the departments of mechanical and aerospace engineering and of electrical and computer engineering. Pisano is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering for contributions to the design, fabrication, commercialization, and educational aspects of MEMS, and is a Fellow of the ASME.
Prior to his appointment at UCSD, Pisano served on the UC Berkeley faculty for 30 years, where he held the FANUC Endowed Chair of Mechanical Systems. Pisano was the senior co-director of the Berkeley Sensor & Actuator Center (an NSF Industry-University Cooperative Research Center), director of the Electronics Research Laboratory (UC Berkeley’s largest organized research unit), and faculty head of the Program Office for Operational Excellence, among other leadership positions. From 1997 to 1999, Pisano was a program manager for the MEMS Program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Pisano held several research positions prior to joining academia.
Pisano is a co-inventor listed on more than 36 patents in MEMS and has co-authored more than 400 archival publications. Pisano also is a co-founder of 10 startup companies in the areas of transdermal drug delivery, transvascular drug delivery, sensorized catheters, MEMS manufacturing equipment, MEMS RF devices and MEMS motion sensors. Visit his faculty page to learn more about his research interests.
MEMS & Sensors Industry Group, a SEMI technology community representing the global MEMS and sensors supply chain, hosts the annual MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress. To learn how MSIG enables professionals in the MEMS and sensors industry to innovate, address common challenges and accelerate business results, visit us today.
Nishita Rao is marketing manager for technology communities at SEMI.