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'Sensor fusion' helps drive MEMS growth

Projected to grow from about $11.5 billion in 2012 to $21.2 billion in 2017, the market for microelectromechanical systems will be shaped by an increasingly sensor-based world, according to forecasts presented at the recent MEMS Executive Congress U.S. 2012.

While total sales of MEMS-based devices are predicted to reach nearly 19 billion units in 2017 alone, according to estimates from Yole Developpement, a MEMS market research firm based in Lyon, France, the sensor segment—which may account for about 10 percent of those sales—seemed to capture the most attention at the congress.

As the more than 200 MEMS industry leaders at the November gathering learned, that's because of something called "sensor fusion," the process of merging data collected from multiple sensors and applying special algorithms to weed out erroneous data and produce more accurate information. Sensor fusion is expected to fuel a projected 59.4 percent annual growth rate for MEMS-based devices found in products such as television remotes, digital cameras, notebook computers, tablets and smartphones.

According to Semico Research Corp., a semiconductor market research firm based in Phoenix, annual sales of MEMS devices with sensor fusion will increase from 346 million units in 2012 to 2.2 billion in 2016.

For an example of MEMS-based devices using sensor fusion, those at the MEMS congress only had to turn to Movea Inc., a motion-processing technology company based in Pleasanton, Calif. Movea, which sponsored the MEMS Technology Showcase during the congress, has developed an algorithm that can improve the performance of a compass app on a smartphone.

In an on-camera interview with MICROmanufacturing (above), Movea President Bryan Hoadley demonstrated how the compass app using its sensor fusion system was unaffected by magnetic interference. Despite magnetic interference, the app continued to point north uninterrupted. Yet, a widely accessible compass app on another smartphone behaved erratically, as would a conventional compass, when the same magnetic interference was introduced.

Wrapup: MEMS Technology Showcase

Though Sphero, a MEMS-based toy developed by Orbotix, rolled around the competition to earn the top honors at the MEMS Technology Showcase, all six finalists offered those attending the MEMS Executive Congress U.S. 2012 a glimpse into the future of the industry.

Each of the finalists demonstrated a new product or technology that makes use of MEMS. In addition to Orbotix, whose rolling toy robot was voted the favorite among those in attendance, other finalists included Intel, Freescale Semiconductor, Body Media, LUMOback and Light Bohrd.

Intel, which presented its Clover Trail reference design for Windows 8, had already unveiled a commercial version — the Intel Atom processor Z2760 — before the showcase, which was held Nov. 8. As can be seen in numerous television commercials, the Intel Atom processor powers tablets and tablet convertibles running Windows 8, and offers users multiple interface options, including touchscreen, keyboard and mouse, or a pen.

For a closer look at the products and technologies presented by the other five finalists, MICROmanufacturing attended the congress to capture on-camera demonstrations. Just click on the links below to view each demo.