Part of 1 of 2-part series on MSEC 2019 highlights.
Read Part 2.
MEMS and sensors are proliferating across consumer, automotive, biomedical/healthcare, robotics, industrial and agriculture applications to harvest sensory data in a hyper-connected world and meet demand from consumers and organizations alike as they clamor for more intelligence in electronics.
Take the ubiquitous iPhone. Shipped in 2007, Apple’s first iPhone sported five sensors. By contrast, the most feature-packed smartphones will embed up to 20 sensors by 2021, according to Yole Développement’s Jérôme Azémar. He estimates that the devices will feature four MEMS microphones, four CMOS image sensors (CIS), a RGB color sensor, a laser rangefinder, an infrared sensor, a gas sensor, a heart rate monitor and a fingerprint sensor, not to mention the MEMS inertial sensors that device users have come to know and trust.
The MEMS market is expected to reach $18.5 billion in 2024 , up a whopping 60 percent from $11.6 billion in 2018, according to Azémar, who presented at MEMS & Sensors Industry Group’s 15th annual MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress (MSEC) in late October in Coronado, Calif. Add other types of sensors to the mix – CIS, environmental sensors, LiDARs, radars, ultrasonics, and fingerprint sensors – and the market will mushroom to $93 billion by 2024, said Azémar.
Since MEMS & Sensors Industry Group (MSIG) joined SEMI as a Strategic Association Partner three years ago, SEMI has expanded its MEMS and sensors programs to Europe and Asia while continuing to grow its U.S. conferences.
“SEMI is continually investing in MEMS and sensors innovation across the supply chain,” said Dave Anderson, president of SEMI Americas and host of MSEC. “For example, MSIG is contributing to the development of the Heterogeneous Integration Roadmap, an initiative designed to drive heterogeneous integration technology development and accelerate electronics innovation. The roadmap spans device design, test and fabrication, ecosystem development, R&D, equipment and materials.
“At MSEC, executives and other speakers explored how AI and blockchain are remaking the food supply chain, air transportation and other sectors as MEMS and sensors improve the quality of our lives,” said Anderson.
Sensing at the Edge
The concept of artificial intelligence (AI), that a machine can harness intelligence that rivals or outperforms humans – and act without human intervention – has been a feature of the human imagination since at least the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. MEMS and sensors facilitate intelligence in a wide range of electronics such as smartphones, healthcare wearables, robots, industrial predictive maintenance systems, and cars. AI is sure to augment that functionality.
MEMS and sensors are now in their third wave of evolution, a focus on edge AI, Bosch Sensortec CEO and General Manager Stefan Finkbeiner told MSEC attendees. For its part, Bosch is working to add AI to MEMS devices. The first wave integrated software with MEMS sensors, and the second, sensor fusion, enabled designers to allocate performance and power strategically to tune MEMS for resource-constrained devices. The third wave is “an active-learning phase in which MEMS facilitates real-time learning at the edge to promote greater personalization, environmental feedback, privacy of user data and improved battery life,” said Finkbeiner.
Small sensor nodes with edge AI exemplify third-wave applications. Integrating low-power environmental sensors (e.g., gas, temperature, pressure, humidity and air-flow sensors), the nodes could be deployed in fire-prone forests to assess fire risk and support early detection. Access to this real-time environmental information could prove invaluable to residents and public-safety personnel alike.
Google takes another tack, applying machine learning to resource-constrained devices, said Nick Kreeger, a senior software engineer at the Internet giant. The company’s Google Brain creates machine learning models that can run on inexpensive, low-power microcontrollers using Google’s TensorFlow Lite, an open-source machine learning tool that’s been deployed on a multitude of mobile devices. Inferencing is done at the device’s edge, rather than transmitted to the cloud.
Meeting the power constraints of battery-powered sensing devices is another matter that starts with minimizing energy and data waste. “Deep learning is compute-bound and runs well on existing microcontrollers,” Kreeger said. “Because it’s all arithmetic, it’s low-power compared to storage access.”
Already Google has worked with Plant Village, a research unit at Penn State University, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to help farmers improve food production by using machine learning and cheap sensors to spot and manage planet diseases in developing countries. And that production chain is in dire need of a boost, according to Rajendra Rao, general manager of IBM Food Trust, an enterprise-class blockchain solution.
“We are on the cusp of complete failure of the food system,” Rao said. “One out of 10 people gets sick each year from foodborne illness, 420,000 die from this annually, 80 percent of companies in the food supply chain have not digitized, one-third of all fresh food in the US is thrown away, and one in five seafood samples worldwide is mislabeled.”
IBM Food Trust’s work with Sucafina, which manages a global green coffee supply chain, shows how sensors can trace food from the farm to the processing plant to the consumer. With the IBM Food Trust platform, Sucafina can track the origin of the beans used in a cup of coffee – a competitive differentiator to coffee drinkers eager to support fair-trade coffee roasters.
ripe.io, one of Forbes’ 25 most innovative AgTech startups, is also tackling the challenges and complexities of the food supply chain.
“Our secure blockchain platform creates a digital twin of food items, transparently aggregating foods’ journey in real-time, to provide a harmonized trustworthy platform for multiple stakeholders,” said Rachel Gabato, the company’s COO.
The ripe.io blockchain-based platform collects data from various sensors – temperature, pressure, light, humidity and inertial MEMS sensors. Growers, distributors and end customers including sweetgreen – a U.S. restaurant chain that depends on fresh produce – use the information to trace the origin and quality of food.
Stay in Touch with MSIG
MEMS & Sensors Industry Group (MSIG), a SEMI Strategic Association Partner, is the industry association representing the global MEMS and sensors supply chain. To learn how MSIG enables professionals in the MEMS and sensors industry to innovate, address common challenges and accelerate business results, visit us today.
Subscribe to SEMI Blog: Technology and Trends.
 Source: Status of the MEMS Industry report, Yole Développement, 2019
Maria Vetrano is a public relations consultant at SEMI.