More natural and immersive user interfaces will allow sensors to cater to a myriad of new applications.

The call for ubiquitous intelligent sensing summed up the collective buzz at this year's MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress (MSEC) held on November 1-2, 2017 in San Jose, California. Intelligent sensing, according to experts, will make MEMS and sensors a far more effective enabler of pervasive, connected and contextually-aware computing for a myriad of new applications.

 

 

The keynote speakers also used the venue to draw attention to why it's about time for MEMS and sensor devices to move beyond the traditional dividing lines of human-machine interaction. And that sensing technologies should acquire more natural and immersive user interfaces like voice.

 

NXP's Lars Reger outlined the sensing mega-trends in the automotive industry in his keynote address at MSEC. Image courtesy of MSEC.

 

Among the existing applications, such as automotive, Lars Reger, CTO of NXP's Automotive Business Unit, reiterated the need for sensors to achieve a failure-free model in autonomous vehicles. Here, he quoted the example of motion sensors, which (according to Reger) are going to play a vital role in boosting the security in keyless entry systems.

 

Key Event Highlights

Another notable presence at the show was Lama Nachman, Intel fellow and director of the firm’s Anticipatory Computing Lab. She called for more configurable systems, so that sensors can be used in a greater range of applications.

 

Intel’s Lama Nachman stressed the need for contextually-aware systems in the next-generation sensors. Image courtesy of MSEC.

 

To get there, Alissa Fitzgerald, founder and managing member of A.M. Fitzgerald & Associates, called attention to the strategic importance of university labs.

"The pipeline for emerging technologies generally begins with university labs turning out proof-of- concept devices," she said in her address. 

Fitzgerald has based her claims on a review of more than 500 papers from academic conferences. She also cited the stagnation of silicon sensors, the migration from capacitive MEMS to piezoelectric sensors and actuators, and a movement toward paper and plastic sensors.

On the commercial front, SoilCares BV showed how its MEMS-based near infrared (NIR) devices could scan soil samples. Henri Hekman, CEO and president of SoilCares, called sensors a key tool for increasing agricultural productivity. He also told attendees about the agriculture sensor trials that SoilCares is conducting in 20 cities of Africa and North America.

 

Winner of Technology Showcase

The Technology Showcase at MSEC selects a winner from four finalists by allowing attendees to vote, and this year's winner was Menlo Digital-Micro-Switch Technology, a MEMS-based switching element of the width of a human hair.

 

The scalable MEMS switch supports billions of cycles without performance degradation. Image courtesy of Menlo Micro.

 

At the event, Menlo Micro demonstrated fundamental material advancements to improve the size, speed, power handling, and reliability of MEMS switches. The company claims to have enabled RF switching 1,000 times faster while lasting 1,000 times longer than traditional mechanical switches.

 

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