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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Microelectronic Mechanical Systems (MEMS)

MEMS gyroscope from the iPhone 4S
Ever use an iPhone? a Wii? How about a camera? Pretty much all new technology that exists uses MEMS somewhere. MEMS devices are actual mechanical devices that are so small that their workings can't really be seen by the human eye. They are designed, usually, as small parts intended to be placed on the tiny circuit boards that live inside our devices and gadgets. Each part might only be 1-2 cubic millimeters. The modern iPhone 4S, for instance, contains three MEMS devices on board: a 3-axis accelerometer, a 3-axis gyroscope, and an electronic compass.
MEMS ratchet

MEMS devices are used inside our cars as well, sensing acceleration and deploying air bags (perhaps deploying a roll bar automatically), or sensing the pressure of our tires, for instance. Tiny mirrors made of MEMS technology are used in optical applications, such as Digital Light Processing (DLP) where arrays of hundreds of thousands of micro mirrors are used. Now, crystals that set a time base for electronics are beginning to be replaced by MEMS resonators. A MEMS 3-axis accelerometer gives Nintendo's Wii information about the motion of the user's hand.

As time goes on, MEMS technology will have to go down to an even smaller scale to accomplish more and more complex tasks mechanically. This will require increasing reliance on nanotechnology. This already occurs as manufacturers work to prevent stiction from affecting the surfaces of their MEMS devices, using a nanotechnology technique called Self-Assembled Monolayers to coat their surfaces.

As devices get smaller, they increasingly become part of our everyday lives. And technology becomes actually useful. MEMS devices are helping us do more with flair. With MEMS devices, an iPhone or an iPad has the ability to sense the physics of the user's control, allowing a simulated airplane to pitch, yaw, and roll.

Check out iSuppli for information about the MEMS markets and competitive analysis. Another excellent source of information about this market is YolĂ© Developpment from France.

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