The MEMS success story: a decade of evolving strategies leading to a bright MEMS future – An interview with Bosch Sensortec, STMicroelectronics and Yole Développement

The semiconductor market continues to surprise us.

“From positive and negative effects spanning the whole industry due to COVID-19, to the recent USA-China trade war and subsequent chip shortage driving political incentives for relocalization of semiconductor supply chains, all lights are currently shined on semiconductors, with splashy investments announced all over the world leading to an excitingly and rapidly developing industry, “ comments Dimitrios Damianos, Senior Technology & Market Analyst and Custom Project Business Developer at Yole Développement (Yole). Let’s not forget: MEMS (sensors & actuators) are a sub-category of semiconductors present across a multitude of products.

Under the $440 billion semiconductor umbrella, MEMS reached $12.1 billion in 2020, with the Top 10 MEMS players, including historical leaders such as Bosch and STMicroelectronics, representing at least 50% of the total MEMS market. After a weak 2019 and 2020 and according to its annual MEMS report, Status of the MEMS Industry, Yole expects the market to grow by 11% in 2021, reaching $13.4 billion. Subsequently, high-single digit growth will increase annual MEMS revenue to $18.2 billion by 2026. Main drivers of this growth could be delivered by emerging opportunities, such as for microphones and inertial MEMS in wearables and particularly True Wireless Stereo (TWS) earbuds, gas sensors and environmental combos, optical MEMS for LIDAR and AR/VR, MEMS micro-speakers and other devices driven by new use-cases and evolving applications.

“Held back typically by lack of standardization and the limits of MEMS law, “One MEMS device/product, one MEMS process”, the MEMS industry continues to push forward, breaking the various glass ceilings as it has done throughout its recent history,” adds Jérôme Mouly, Team Lead Analyst, Sensing & Actuating at Yole.

In order to understand past and recent developments, but also frame the picture of the forthcoming MEMS future, Yole’s CEO, who has been following the MEMS-industry developments for more than 20 years, chatted with two of the historical MEMS leaders and early pioneers, Bosch Sensortec and STMicroelectronics.

Almost 10 years ago, Yole spoke with both leading MEMS companies for MEMS Trends magazine.

Today we will take a step back, look at what happened since we last spoke, discuss what has changed and describe the new vision of the MEMS world. Take a few minutes to discover below the view and the analysis of these 3 MEMS experts:

  • Dr. Stefan Finkbeiner, CEO and General Manager of Bosch Sensortec
  • Andrea Onetti, Analog, MEMS and Sensors Group Vice President and MEMS Sensors Division General Manager, STMicroelectronics
  • Jean-Christophe Eloy, President & CEO, Yole Développement

Sandrine Leroy (SL): 10 years ago, you had a very particular vision for the evolution of the MEMS market. What was your vision then, and how did it actually play out?

Andrea Onetti (AO): 10 years ago, we envisioned diversification as the evolution path for MEMS at ST. We were starting from a strong position in inertial sensors for consumer applications where we had started by introducing MEMS sensors into Nintendo’s Wii in the mid-2000s and having built and consolidated our position in terms of market share and manufacturing size. We knew we wanted to diversify across four different vectors: technology, products, applications, and markets. So ST invested in new technologies for both sensors and actuators, reinforced our inertial sensor portfolio through integration, expanded beyond motion sensors with new environmental sensors and MEMS mirrors, and started to gain market share in both industrial and automotive markets, while continuing to innovate for our customers in the consumer markets. Either we brought a new product to a mature market, or we launched innovative solutions to explore new applications in new fields.

Of course, not everything we did went as planned. To be successful in MEMS you need to be a leader in both technology and in manufacturing scale. And we’ve managed to continue innovating, developing new, advanced technologies, creating new markets (including in automotive), and building scale so we can compete and support our customers.

Stefan Finkbeiner (SF): Ten years ago, Bosch was already the market leader in MEMS sensors in the automotive sector. This is still the case. Bosch has been both, a pioneer and a global market leader in the MEMS sensor segment since 1995 and has, to date, sold more than 15 billion MEMS sensors. Our vision at Bosch Sensortec, a fully owned subsidiary of Robert Bosch GmbH, which was at that time just a small startup, was to become the #1 in the consumer electronics markets. This now became reality. Since its foundation in 2005, Bosch Sensortec has emerged as the MEMS technology leader in the markets it addresses. We are developing and commercializing a wide portfolio of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors and solutions tailored for smartphones, tablets, wearables and hearables, AR/VR devices, drones, robots, smart home and AIoT (Artificial Intelligence of Things) applications. Bosch Sensortec has specifically emerged strongly with the growing smartphone, wearables/hearables and other CE markets. Bosch Sensortec has been the first to introduce pressure sensors into smartphones, was the first to launch 2x2mm2 accelerometers and has invented the 6-axis eCompass (i.e. accelerometer and geo-magnetic sensor in one single package). More recently Bosch Sensortec has made sensors smart by integrating software and artificial intelligence/machine learning capabilities into consumer electronics sensors. Bosch Sensortec has continuously brought innovation into the CE MEMS sensor market.

Jean-Christophe Eloy (JCE): If you look at the market evolution in the last 10 years, the growth has been just incredible, with an overall market that is reaching $13.3B in 2021, a market almost 2 times bigger than 10 years ago, which is expected to reach more than $18B in 2026. The growth per unit is even faster, with 10% CAGR per units expected for the next 5 years.

On the innovation side, these past 10 years (2011-2021) have been less interesting than the 10 years before that (2001-2011), where we saw the arrival of MEMS microphones and in general the integration of MEMS sensors into smartphones. Indeed, the 2000-2010 period was unique in terms of innovation. The last 10 years are characterized by innovations that are more technology-focused (for ex. Auto-focus, energy harvesting, piezoMEMS, etc.) but also the speed of innovation is slower.

One of the main concerns that Yole highlighted 10 years ago is still here: even if the MEMS market value is increasing, the price per device is decreasing year after year and the MEMS industry has not been able to solve this issue. The main challenge for the MEMS companies is to bring back into the device the value that is spread in the mobile phone (in the application processor), in the car (with multiple ECUs) … and to be able to sell not only sensors and actuators but also the signal processing, the artificial intelligence with the sensor in order to deliver not only accurate data but actionable information. The race (and war) for added value is still on in the MEMS industry and the battle to added value at the sensor level has still to be won by the MEMS manufacturers.

The COVID-19 pandemic and US-China trade war have created severe tension in the semiconductor supply chain. There are both industrial and political incentives to have more local manufacturing capabilities.

SL: Do you think these potential big changes will affect MEMS as well? What is your vision for the future of MEMS manufacturing?

SF: The current political tensions and the corresponding uncertainties are impacting the whole semiconductor industry and its suppliers. Naturally the MEMS industry is also affected in different ways. How this will evolve is currently not fathomable.

We have always manufactured MEMS in Germany and are not directly affected by the political uncertainties. We see the existing MEMS manufacturing capacities in Europe and the U.S. as less critical compared to other semiconductors, as the existing MEMS fabs can handle high volumes compared to market demand.

In addition to pure semiconductor or MEMS manufacturing, raw materials, or sub-processes such as packaging also play a role, for which we rely on international partners. In the future, too, some raw materials or manufacturing steps will not be able to be sourced locally or will make economic sense.

Currently, we are all seeing the massive public investment programs in semiconductors and MEMS in China. China is rapidly building up expertise and will rely more on local partners in the future. For the U.S. and Europe, the Chinese sales market will become more difficult, and at the same time, new competition from China will emerge.

At the same time, we will continue to work with China. China will also remain an important trading partner for Europe and the USA.

AO: For sure, the global industry is experiencing a “relocalization” phenomenon after a long period when production had been delocalized.  At ST we have known for a long time that a key success factor for MEMS is to develop technology in the same facilities that scales up manufacturing production.

The synergies of technology and product development with manufacturing are key.  As a consequence, we’ll see more and more requests for technology development in areas, such as China, eager to scale up. IP management and protection will play a key role in the future of MEMS manufacturing.

JCE: China R&D organizations and Chinese companies started to invest in MEMS design and manufacturing almost 15 years ago and the results and impacts on the markets have been limited so far, with very few Chinese MEMS companies that are able to compete with the European, US or Japanese leaders, in all applications. Goertek seems now to be the most aggressive company with an impressive growth, a coming IPO and multiple new products being launched. The lesson behind this is that MEMS technology development and manufacturing transfer takes time and is very complex. MEMS is part of the agenda of multiple companies in China and outside China, but the ranking of the MEMS companies has not changed that much in the last 5 years, which is a sign that no revolution is expected in the competitive situation of the MEMS companies.

SL: During these last 10 years, how has the MEMS ecosystem evolved? Are there any significant changes in terms of a predominant business model?

JCE: What is the most significant change in the last 10 years in term of competitive situation between IDM, fabless and foundries is that… the situation has not changed ! IDM is still the dominant business model, fabless companies are getting stronger, but the technology development associated with internal manufacturing capabilities are still the way to develop a MEMS industrial activity.

The access to a viable manufacturing infrastructure, delivering good die at affordable price (without talking about device design) is a very long process due to the MEMS law.

What is very interesting, is that MEMS devices have step by step investigated multiple sensor fields: it started in the 60s with pressure sensor (still very active now, even with the transition to electric vehicles), then in the 00s with inertial sensors and now we see the large diffusion of audio devices, including microphones and micromachined speakers that are on a super growth path (due to the diffusion of the voice activation functionalities). We see the next years becoming extremely important for photonic based sensors and actuators (linked to gas sensing, multi-spectrum analysis…), it is certainly the growth path for 2025 and after.

MEMS stacked dice assembly – Courtesy of STMicroelectronics, 2021

SL: In your case, how has your business model changed, and why?

AO: The key competitive advantage in MEMS – as stated before – is to develop and manufacture sensors and actuators in volume in the same facility.  The IDM business model is proven to be the winning factor, because of the possibility to drive the technology evolution to anticipate market needs.

On the other hand, it is true that the overall MEMS ecosystem today allows you to leverage many “partners,” who are able to complement the support of some of secondary manufacturing steps, such as electronics, or assembly. In addition, we’ve also started looking beyond the sensors. As a result, we’re adding features – like programmable state machines and the machine-learning cores we introduced and were the first to sell in volume in 2018 – that can dramatically lower system power consumption by using AI techniques to “learn” algorithms they can off-load from the main processor, self-calibration to deliver higher accuracy data, and powerful software that make our sensors easier to use.

We’re also adding high-value assurances, like our 10-year longevity program, so customers know they’ll be able to secure parts for long-lifetime products, such as those used in industrial applications. We also see the value of building powerful ecosystems, like the ST Partner Program and the LaSAR Alliance that we launched last year, to foster and encourage the development and promotion of technologies, components, devices, techniques, and solutions to enable the efficient design and manufacture of AR wearable devices.

SF: 10 years ago, we have been offering MEMS sensor components only, now we are providing highly sophisticated software and AI-enabled sensing solutions enabling added value features for our customers and ultimately the end users, e.g. step and calorie counting, motion pattern recognition for fitness applications, pedestrian navigation and more.

However, in the micro opto-electromechanical systems (MOEMS) area where we launched the Smartglasses Light Drive system some time ago, we have also established a new business model. Here we are not only a provider of a component, but we are a supplier for a whole system.

Smartglasses technology module – Courtesy of Bosch Sensortec, 2021

The Bosch Sensortec Smartglasses Light Drive system is a sole source, all-in-one technology stack consisting of MEMS mirrors (microelectromechanical systems), optical elements, sensors, and onboard processing. Bosch Sensortec is currently the only complete system provider in this field on the market.

Smartglasses technology – Courtesy of Bosch Sensortec, 2021

The MEMS based projection solutions deliver just-in-time hands-free information in a minimalistic format, making it ideal for all-day wearable, transparent smartglasses applications including navigation, calls, and notifications as well as everyday note-based information.

We provide complete, ready-to-use solutions based on micro-opto-electromechanical systems (MOEMS). The systems combine all hardware components as well as algorithms to integrate into customer devices as a stand-alone or an embedded solution.

From the first integration of inertial sensors in the first generation of smartphones, these devices have come a long way. While they were used as stand-alone entities in the past, their cost/price was considerable, which led to the co-integration of both in the same package, eventually making them cheaper.

SL: How have the design choices of consumer and automotive OEMs evolved during the past 10 years with respect to using stand-alone vs. combo sensors? What were the main drivers for these choices? Besides cost, maybe?

SF: Integration of sensors creates more value and ease of use. Reduced total size, reduced PCB-footprint and power consumption add to the positive aspects of integrated sensors. Generally, over the last years customers have learned which sensors and sensor combinations suit best for their individual design and use case requirements. This means for example 6-axis IMUs for the mid-range and high-end smartphones and 3-axis accelerometers for low-end smartphones. With the evolution of wearables and hearables, the use cases for these devices with regards to inertial and even environmental sensors have become more and more demanding. High-end hearables meanwhile also include high-end 6-axis IMUs. So, the main drivers are the use cases that OEMs and ODMs want to realize and that require either integrated or discrete solutions. Another driver has been the increasing demand for more performance, mostly from the gyro side. Still, higher performance gyro data make no sense if the corresponding accelerometer data performance is poor. Thus, an integrated high-performance 6-axis IMU is the customers’ choice.

Finally, with our integrated smart sensor solutions we enable new functions in hearables and wearables that add value to the solution, based upon integrated sensors.

Self-learning AI sensor – Courtesy of Bosch Sensortec 2021

AO: We’ve learned, or been reminded, that of the 5 key criteria – Accuracy, Availability, Cost, Power, and Size – (system-level) Power consumption, Accuracy, and Size are extremely important, although nobody would optimize these without considering Cost or Availability.

In recognizing this, we’ve focused on each with the addition of Programmable State Machines and Machine-Learning Cores with some AI techniques in many of our newest sensors to reduce overall system power by consolidating some digital processing that would otherwise be performed in more power-hungry MCUs, DSPs, and Application Processors; we’ve developed and integrated calibration-friendly technology to assure the highest accuracy; continued to integrate at the chip and package level; and added our 10-year availability assurance to appropriate industrial-targeted products, all while keeping a close eye on costs.

Moreover, in our focus on delivering smart-sensing on the edge, we’re also expanding the availability of software tools that make using our products easier to integrate and use.

STMicroelectronics mentioned in MEMSTrends magazine in 2012 that they wanted to become a leader in acoustic technologies. Voice is becoming the preference for HMI.

SL: MEMS microphones are a big business for STMicroelectronics. Where does STMicroelectronics stand now in the current context?

Analog MEMS microphone from STMicroelectronics, 2021

AO: In the framework of our diversification strategy, we have developed acoustic technologies and they continue to be a focus of development. Thanks to the availability of a wide technology portfolio across many different domains (MEMS capacitive microphone and accelerometer, PZT…) we can easily address innovative product development targeting fast-growing applications. Examples include TWS, Industry 4.0, and Road Noise Cancellation for automotive. Continuing to focus on the higher-innovation end of the application spectrum has allowed ST to disinvest from standard “me-too” acoustic products in the consumer domain.

In the global context of audio technologies, audio functionalities like ANC, 3D audio, etc., are becoming ever-more popular. And as we know, MEMS mics have a major role to play in this domain. Bosch had acquired Akustica in the past but exited the mic business.

SL: Is there any plan to go back to the MEMS mic business, or are you focusing on other businesses?

SF: Bosch Sensortec is a highly innovative company, which is a part of its Robert Bosch genes. As such we are constantly looking for new innovative areas. We decided for instance to enter the optical MEMS business. Bosch Sensortec´s optical microsystems provide complete, ready-to-use solutions based on micro-opto-electro-mechanical systems (MOEMS). The Laser-based MOEMS sensors enable always-in focus projection. Our optical microsystems combine all hardware components as well as algorithms required for integration into customer devices as stand-alone or an embedded solution. So, we have meanwhile become much more than just a MEMS device provider: we are now being perceived as an out-of-one-hand system provider that has deep know-how for all required aspects of smartglasses designs. In that sense, there may be other areas in the future where we could think to step into in a similar way.

Currently we do not have any concrete plans to go into the MEMS microphone market. Still, there are always options to find a suitable partner to enable customer solutions, if necessary.

JCE: Audio is certainly the place where MEMS companies can bring a lot of value in addition to just a microphone. As indicated by Bosch, the use of voice for communication, human-machine interface, security… is bringing a lot of new functions that could be integrated into the sensor manufacturers added value. ANC, voice recognition, voice activation… with the added value of artificial intelligence and edge computing can bring very high added value to MEMS companies, in addition to the sensor itself. A good signal out of the sensor is key for all these functions, but the added value of processing it needs to stay in the hands of the sensor makers, not to the digital IC companies. This fight for the added value started more than 20 years ago and still needs to be won.

SL: Miniaturization, low power consumption, large volumes were the key technological trends in the past. As we are approaching the physical limits of miniaturization, for example, what are the new challenges/technology trends currently for MEMS manufacturers, and how is your company responding to your clients’ technology requirements?

AO: The key drivers for MEMS adoption in any industry, whether for sensors or actuators, continues to be miniaturization, with now a focus on accuracy, and scalability. On top of that, reducing power consumption to the minimum is a mandatory requirement – and this minimal power requirement must be met without compromising any of the three drivers above or reliability elements such as robustness (… Let’s not forget we’re speaking about a micro-mechanical element)

Continuous investment in technology development is the only answer to this continuous evolution need, and for ST, the background consideration is to believe that the volumes can justify the relevant new technology investment.

SF: For CE MEMS those trends that you mention are still existing and they will continue to exist. As an example: without the continuous efforts to further reduce size, power consumption while at the same time increasing performance, it would have been impossible to address the newly established wearables and hearables markets. The additional challenges are the improvement of certain performance parameters that allow for more precise measurement. Smart sensors are another important trend that customers are fascinated about. We are intensively working on AI/ML-enabled smart sensor solutions and see ourselves here as the market leader.

In automotive, key drivers are robustness, performance but also price. Sensors have to withstand external vibrations or media influences better and better, and at the same time higher precision or lower noise is expected at a lower price. By constantly pushing the limits of what is technically feasible we can solve this apparent contradiction. We invest heavily in technology development and new innovative product designs, and we are ensuring an inspiring environment for our highly competent and innovative employees. In this environment we succeed again and again to inspire our customers for us and our products.

In the last couple of years, we have observed the shift to intelligent sensors. MEMS, for example, can include an embedded chip (MCU) for computing (AI/ML on the edge), and both STMicroelectronics/Bosch Sensortec have such products.

SL: Is there an actual need from the market and increasing demand for these types of devices (for example in specific applications), or is the availability of AI/ML technology pushing these intelligent devices into the market?

SF: Bosch Sensortec has started quite early to add more intelligence into sensors than required for the standard operation. Intelligence is predominantly targeted to take over or at least improve the customers’ use cases. And again, the availability of new technologies, like AI/ML, allows our customers to think about completely new use cases. By integrating our AI/ML-based sensors in their solutions their work designing the product becomes a lot easier and they can offer more attractive products to the end customers. Like for example with our latest product in the area of AI/ML-enabled 6-axis IMUs: Bosch Sensortec has developed a revolutionary self-learning motion sensor that adds artificial intelligence (AI) to portable devices: the BHI260AP self-learning AI sensor. The sensor enables manufacturers of wearable and hearable devices to provide highly personalized fitness tracking through self-learning AI software in the sensor. It recognizes and adapts to a wide variety of movements and is able to learn any new fitness activity that is based on repetitive, cyclical patterns. Users can hence be trainers and trainees at the same time.

It’s not only that the sensor automatically recognizes motion patterns during a fitness exercise, but our customer can enable his product with the help of our sensor to learn new motion patterns. And this can be done in a very simple way by the end customer. So, in fact AI/ML in our sensor helps our customers to make their devices more valuable for the end customer.

AO: For greatest power and bandwidth efficiency, IoT nodes require AI processing built-in to devices on the edge.  Smart sensors on the edge of the edge are the solution: the key is not to oversize the resources in the sensors, which would risk wasting the limited power budget, but to integrate “just enough” intelligence, to be able to process the basic application information from the sensor and intelligently wake up the system when needed.

This approach is evolving towards the market requirement for “Tiny ML cores”: smart sensors imply “smart integration” of dedicated resources, not just “horse-power” on top.

Cost pressure on MEMS devices is huge, mainly in the consumer market, which might negatively impact the sensor manufacturers’ margins and profitability.

SL: What are MEMS sensor companies doing to keep their margins high and bring back some value?

AO: While Consumer, Industrial, and Automotive markets require MEMS products in the same familiar categories as 10 years ago (accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, etc.), in reality the sensors now need completely different accuracy capabilities. The “dirty little secret” of MEMS sensors is their need for calibration to assure accuracy and today, accuracy is the real value differentiator for MEMS products and the challenge for MEMS vendors is to free their customers from the need to calibrate for the lifetime of the usage of the product.

As I’ve mentioned before… miniaturization, scalability AND accuracy make MEMS irreplaceable and forever needed.

SF: This is a challenge indeed. However, there are mainly two things we are pursuing. Firstly, we do a lot of product innovation that adds more value for the customer to our sensors and in parallel we do of course continuously work on design optimization. That basically means we are either going new ways that require less costly manufacturing steps when we design new products, or we optimize existing products/technologies with the same target. Of course, this is being done without making any compromise w.r.t. to product quality, product reliability or product performance.

Vehicle electrification is changing the automotive business with respect to the classic ICE powertrain. But also, in the general context of the CASE megatrend, there is an immediate impact on MEMS (and not only) sensors. From the classic ICE powertrain disappearance to the introduction of rigorous functional safety standards for ADAS cars but also comfort and infotainment, MEMS sensors might experience positive and negative effects.

SL: What is the medium- and longer-term impact of electrification and, more generally, the CASE megatrend in the automotive MEMS sensor market?

JCE: With the new EU ban of ICE cars in 2035, the impact on sensors for engine management will be very, very important. MAP, BAP and all related applications will at one point disappear. The good news is that electric vehicles are bringing new needs for battery management for example, electric engine monitoring… but with different modalities. The main market growth will come from ADAS and robotic vehicle where MEMS devices are playing a central role and taking full benefit of the market evolutions. But here also, we are talking about different type of sensors.

SL: How do you anticipate this impact, and how are you preparing yourself to accommodate this future?

SF: The current electrification and autonomous driving trend will change the needs and requirements for sensor technology. Pressure or mass flow sensors for internal combustion engines will become obsolete, but new applications will emerge for pressure or media sensors like battery cell monitoring or even comfort functions.

Infotainment or entertainment in the vehicle interior will become more important and new use-cases that address all senses – acoustic, haptic, visual – will emerge.

The demands on sensor technology will also increase autonomous driving places the highest demands on reliable surroundings sensing and localization, which requires corresponding sensor technology – e.g. precise inertial sensors or optical components for LiDAR.

We are already setting the course today to meet these trends. We are investing in appropriate technology development and adapting our product portfolio – not only in sensor technology, but also in the semiconductor sector in general with, for example, appropriate SiC based power semiconductors, to name just one example.

SL: STMicroelectronics is better known as a consumer market MEMS supplier, but they have already ventured into the automotive MEMS market. Do you see any opportunities for ST in automotive MEMS due to electrification and the CASE megatrend, generally?

AO: Building on its long history and expertise in the automotive semiconductor market, STMicroelectronics has successfully diversified in MEMS technologies and products for Automotive. For our MEMS products, those efforts have been agnostic toward both Internal Combustion Engines and electrical motors in order to fully support our customers. In CASE (Connectivity, Autonomous, Sharing, and Electrification), as in consumer products, miniaturization, scalability and accuracy are key drivers, in the context of very limited power consumption requirements. As a matter of fact, as you can imagine, accuracy is the main driver for complex inertial sensors in safety and navigation applications. And Power consumption is essential to allow extensive use of products for comfort (e.g. acoustic damping of the cabin or presence detection inside and outside), and to enable additional features for key fobs. In these and the full suite of appropriate applications, CASE offers an excellent opportunity for ST MEMS evolution in Automotive as it broadly covers the full range of ST’s product portfolio and allows us to leverage expertise we’ve developed for this market segment.

In the context of a fully sensorized world, we have crossed historically through various phases, such as microphones and RF, and now optical MEMS are quivering with possible use in LiDAR & AR/VR. Potentially, we could move towards emotion sensing.

SL: In your opinion, what could be the next market boost and opportunity for MEMS?

AO: MEMS Mirrors perfectly embody the three magic concepts for MEMS sustainability that I’ve mentioned before: miniaturization, scalability, and accuracy. The usage of MEMS Mirrors and laser beam scanning across personal electronics, industrial, and automotive applications will make them the enablers of new industry trends and we believe they will be the new major contributor to growth for MEMS. At the same time the proliferation of TWS gives enhanced convenience and versatility to the consumer while potentially offering businesses the possibility to capture biometric data on top of body activity recognition, that can be interpreted in the sensors using AI techniques to allow better activity profiling.

Micro mirror based on MEMS technology – Courtesy of STMicroelectronics, 2021

SF: The connection between sensors and emotions has many facets:

Emotions are tied to our perception. Wherever sensors act as sensory organs, they contribute significantly to personal experience and thus to emotions – whether it’s the fitness tracker or the suspension control in the sports car. The number of conceivable use-cases is by no means at an end, and new use cases will continue to enrich our lives and boost the market further!

When extended with artificial intelligence (AI) and interaction, sensing opens up completely new possibilities. For example, highly sensitive HMI systems based on quantum sensors enable enormous possibilities in everyday life. Think, for example, of the simple and intuitive control of prostheses or other aids using only your thoughts. This is an enormous simplification for patients!

BME AI Studio – Courtesy of Bosch Sensortec, 2021

The third aspect is the recognition of emotions themselves. It is already possible today to recognize certain emotions based on camera systems and self-learning algorithms. Corresponding information can become interesting in many places, e.g., in public transportation to detect potentially critical situations at an early stage or to make lighting mood dependent. This could be another new market for sensors in the future, if appropriately compact and, above all, reliable sensors and algorithms can be presented.

BHI260AP self-learning AI sensor operation modes – Courtesy of Bosch Sensortec, 2021

SL: To conclude, is there anything that we haven’t discussed, and you deem necessary to share with the MEMS community?

AO: MEMS have evolved across three “ages.” First there was the “Offline Age” (2000-2010), where the value for sensing and actuation was limited to the relevant standalone action it performed or trigged. These actions included screen rotation, step counting, automotive safety, and hardware printing). Ten years ago, we started the “Online Age” (2010-2020) when networking of objects contributed data that was collected and analyzed in the cloud for geo-localization, condition monitoring, car navigation, and 3D printing, for example. And now we are at the start of the “Onlife Age” (2020-….), where there is little distinction between Offline and Online. By adding Machine-Learning cores and tiny DSPs and applying some AI techniques at the sensor, we can substantially reduce power while making the experience seamless between digital and real. This is particularly useful and valuable in applications for edge of the edge detection for zero delay reaction, predictive maintenance, autonomous driving, and holograms, among many others. Stay tuned. There is a lot more to come…

CASE: Connected, Autonomous, Shared, Electrified

About the interviewees

Stefan Finkbeiner was born in 1966 in Freudenstadt, Germany. He received his Diploma in Physics from the University of Karlsruhe in 1992. He then studied at the Max-Planck-Institute in Stuttgart and there received his PhD in Physics in 1995. Dr. Finkbeiner was appointed as CEO of Bosch Sensortec in 2012.

He joined the Robert Bosch GmbH in 1995 and has been working in different positions related to the research, development, manufacturing, and marketing of sensors for more than 20 years. Senior positions at Bosch have included Director of Marketing for sensors, Director of Corporate Research in microsystems technology, and Vice President of Engineering for sensors. In 2015, Dr. Finkbeiner was awarded with the prestigious lifetime achievement award from the MEMS & Sensors Industry Group.

Andrea Onetti is Group Vice President in the Analog, MEMS and Sensors Group and General Manager of ST’s MEMS Sensors Division and has held this position since February 2016.

Onetti joined STMicroelectronics’ R&D Lab in Castelletto, Italy, in 1990, as a designer of mixed-signal audio IC’s and moved into Product Management five years later, in charge of Marketing for Consumer Audio. Under his leadership, his organization became a Product Division and Onetti’s scope was enlarged to include management of planning, operation, and quality of audio products. In 2011, ST created the Audio and Sound Business Unit, targeting the whole audio chain, from detectors (MEMS microphones) to transducers (MEMS speakers), under Onetti’s charge. Most recently, he added responsibility for the Analog and Audio Systems Division, including catalog analog standard products.

Onetti has several patents for analog circuit implementations in the Audio domain.

Andrea Onetti was born in Pavia, Italy, in 1965, and graduated with a Degree in Microelectronics from University of Pavia

Jean-Christophe Eloy is President and CEO of the Yole Développement company. Created in 1998, the market research & strategy consulting company has grown to become a group of companies providing marketing, technology and strategy consulting, media in addition to corporate finance services. His mission is to oversee the strategic direction of Yole Group of Companies.

With System Plus Consulting, Blumorpho, PISEO and Yole Développement, Yole Group of Companies has developed a unique understanding of technologies to accurately evaluate markets, applications, solutions and strategies.

With more than 70 analysts, including PhD and MBA qualified industry veterans, the group collects information, identifies trends, challenges, emerging markets, and competitive environments and then turns that information into results to give a complete picture of the industry’s landscape.

All year long, Jean-Christophe builds deep relationships with leading semiconductor companies, discussing and sharing information across his global network. His aim is to get a comprehensive understanding of their strengths and guide their success.

And Sandrine Leroy is Director of Public Relations for the Yole Group of Companies including Yole Développement.

About the authors of the Status of the MEMS Industry report

Dimitrios Damianos, Ph.D., is a Senior Technology & Market Analyst, part of the Photonics & Sensing division at Yole Développement (Yole).
Based on solid technical expertise in imaging, sensing, and photonics, Dimitrios oversees the day-to-day production of valuable technology & market reports and custom consulting projects.
He also plays a key role in the expansion of Yole’s market & technical knowledge, supporting the development of strategic projects and maintaining long-term relationships with key accounts while ensuring their expectations are met.
Dimitrios regularly presents and delivers keynotes at international conferences and exhibitions. He has also authored and co-authored several technical & market reports as well as scientific papers in international peer-reviewed journals.
Dimitrios holds a BSc in Physics and an MSc in Photonics, both from the University of Patras (Greece), and a Ph.D. in Optics & Microelectronics from the University of Grenoble-Alpes (France).

Pierre DELBOS is a Technology & Market Analyst in the Photonics & Sensing division at Yole Développement.
Pierre is involved in the development of technology and market reports covering MEMS & sensing technologies, including inertial sensors, microphones, optical MEMS, and particle sensors. He also collaborates with his team on custom studies for the key players in the MEMS Industry.
Pierre holds a master’s degree in Microelectronics and Photonics Engineering from Grenoble Institute of Technology, PHELMA (France).

Jérôme Mouly is Team Lead Analyst in the Sensing & Actuating team within the Photonic & Sensing Division at Yole Développement (Yole).
Jérôme manages the expansion of the technical expertise and market know-how of the team. He actively supports and assists in the development of a dedicated collection of market & technology reports as well as custom consulting projects.
He has conducted more than 100 marketing and technological analyses for industrial groups, start-ups, and institutes in the field of MEMS and sensing technologies.
Jérôme has been also deeply engaged in Yole’s finance activities with a dedicated focus on the commercial exploitation of smart system technologies and access to funding opportunities.
Jérôme is regularly involved in international conferences, with presentations and keynotes.
Jérôme Mouly earned a Master of Physics degree from the University of Lyon (FR).

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