DARPA Seeks To Engage With MEMS Industry

Pentagon agency wants industry input on its RIPM program.


Napa, Calif. — DARPA is looking for a few good members of the MEMS industry to offer advice and help to the agency’s Rapid Innovation for Production MEMS (RIPM) concept.

Ronald Polcawich, a program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Microsystems Technology Office, presented the keynote address on the second and final day of the 2018 MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress in Napa, Calif.

Source: DARPA

He led a workshop on RIPM in May and spent the summer conversing with people who were unable to attend the workshop. Harkening back to previous DARPA programs, such as MOSIS, SUMMIT, and HERMIT, Polcawich is trying to foster a new government/industry partnership for MEMS design and manufacturing with RIPM, which will involve “large-scale integration,” he said.

RIPM aims to develop MEMS packaging for harsh environments, Polcawich said. It “needs high yield and repeatability” and “the possibility of integrating a wide variety of components,” he added, in such areas as filter topologies, analog signal processing, acoustic arrays, and arrays of inertial sensors.

Following the workshop last spring, Polcawich received questions on LSI MEMS, IP, single-chip MEMS + CMOS, and how to make PDKs most useful for expert and novice users.

There is interest in developing PZT-on-SOI radio-frequency MEMS resonators, according to Polcawich.

New MEMS Innovation Wave
Guillaume Girardin, director of Yole Développement’s Photonics, Sensing, and Display Division, spoke about MEMS, sensors, and actuators, and where they can combine in new applications.

At present, there is “a new innovation wave for MEMS – another 10 years of R&D,” with AI optimization for MEMS, he said. MEMS devices are “on the road to augmented intelligence – audio, imaging, olfactometry, motion sensing,” Girardin added.

He also referred to using lead zirconate titanate for making MEMS, especially in producing 3D sensors. The 3D imaging and sensing market is forecast to increase to around $18.5 billion in 2023, compared with $2.06 billion last year, the Yole analyst said.

“Mobile phone cameras have become multi-sensor optronics interfaces,” he added. “Robotic cars, autonomous vehicles, and electrification will deeply affect tomorrow’s cars.”

Girardin also touched on the role of MEMS and sensors in developing autonomous vehicles, L5 vehicles and robotaxis in particular.

Ultrathin MEMS
Doug Hackler, president and CEO of American Semiconductor, discussed the topic of ultrathin MEMS. His company offers semiconductor-on-polymer chip-scaled packaged ICs.

“What is driving the need to be thin?” he asked, answering: “Cell phones, board assembly thicknesses, and more electronic layers capability.”

For labels and tags, the goal is “elimination of failures from abrasion and obfuscation,” Hackler asserted.

There are innovations in molding and lamination, he added, such as the nascent field of in-mold electronics, often used in “thermo-formable and injection-molded automotive panels,’ he said.

“Flexible electronics require thin components,” Hackler said. “Scaling thickness has and continues to be a factor in semiconductor packaging.” He added, “Thin is cool, preferred, desirable,” and thinness goes a long way in creating consumer satisfaction with products.

His conclusion: “Embrace ultrathin. Hardware matters – let’s build some new technology.”

Healthcare & Wearables
Craig Easson and Sudhir Mulpuru of Matrix Integrated Products talked about the role of wearable electronics in health care. Biopotential, temperature, optical, and power management ICs are four key technologies in battery-powered wearables, Mulpuru said.

“Wearables are making it easier to monitor health,” he noted. Health-related wearables can monitor heart rate variability, oxygen levels (SpO2), cardiac health, blood pressure, hemoglobin, glucose, and body temperature, he added.

“Integration enables smaller form factors for faster adoption,” Mulpuru stated. He cited Spire Healthcare Group’s Health Patch and Motiv’s Ring as well-designed wearables for their respective applications.

Agriculture & Food Applications
David Mount, senior advisor and consultant to ULVAC Technologies, gave a stirring presentation on “Sensors and Food in Agriculture,” issuing “A call to action – you guys have to get involved in food.”

He added, “Future farms are here today. It’s Silicon Valley meets the Central Valley.” Binbots are an agricultural bot that will someday soon be capable of harvesting wine grapes. “Silicon Valley meets Napa Valley,” Mount commented.

Blockchain, cloud computing, and Internet of Things technology can be implemented in food supply chains to track where food comes from, whether it was refrigerated throughout the distribution cycle, and make food safety a priority, according to Mount.

He touted the Menus of Change program offered by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Menus of Change has established the University Research Collaborative, bringing together 51 universities and colleges for R&D in agricultural technology. “Academia needs help,” he commented. “They’re hungry for your involvement.”

Mount concluded by saying, “We are in crisis with regard to the way we produce the food and what foods we consume.”

Environmental Sensors
Marcellino Gemelli, Bosch Sensortec’s director of global business development, led a discussion on environmental sensors. Pressure sensors, for example, are crucial to the operation of both unmanned aerial vehicles and autonomous vehicles, he said.

“We have to be mindful of the conditions inside drones,” he stated. “Pressure sensors – like those in smartphones – bring advantages across the full flight envelope.”

Environmental sensors can also factor into fleet management applications for autonomous taxis and ride-sharing services, Gemelli added. The technology could sense if passengers are smoking or eating smelly foods in the vehicles, and observe if a passenger vomits.

There are four waves of AI, the Bosch executive noted – Internet data, commercial data, digitized real world, and full automation.

Ultrasonic Sensing
Michelle Kiang, CEO of Chirp Microsystems, was the last speaker for MSEC this year. She detailed the history of her company, which grew out of research at the University of California campuses in Berkeley and Davis, and events that led to the startup’s acquisition last February by the TDK Group.

“Ultrasound range-finding is common in nature,” she noted. “Ultrasonic sensing is used in automotive, drone, and robotics applications.”

Chirp’s ultrasonic sensing technology “works under any lighting condition,” a factor that can bedevil some sensors in autonomous vehicles, Kiang added.

She described Chirp as “a MEMS 2.0 company,” adopting its technology for “everyday products.”

Kiang concluded, “The time is ripe for more MEMS/semiconductor startups. More seed funding is available and there is increased appetite for semiconductor investment.” She added, “Capital efficiency is quite key to a successful exit.”

And The Award Goes To
MSEC ended with the awarding of a prize for the most impactful and interesting product presented at the conference, based on the voting of attendees. The award went to Alertgy for its Glucose Monitor, a biosensor-based wristband device that provides non-invasive, real-time blood glucose monitoring for diabetics.

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