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New frontiers in MEMS around the human body


At the recently held International Electronics Forum (IEF) 2010, organized by Future Horizons in Dresden, Germany, Benedetto Vigna, Group Vice President and General Manager, MEMS, Sensors and High Performance Analog Division, STMicroelectronics, made a wonderful presentation on how MEMS can be useful for the human body, especially from the medical electronics point of view.

MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) is a three-dimensional device embedded in silicon, and uses silicon’s mechanical (and electrical) properties. It supports multifunctional systems of actuators, electronics and sensors.

Three critical waves of MEMS
Vigna highlighted the three very important waves of MEMS — automotive airbags, consumerization, and MEMS in, on, around the body! The last part especially is the most interesting one!

Automotive airbags formed the 1st wave of MEMS. The application supported big and not-so-precise accelerometers. Additional automotive applications followed, such as tyre pressure sensors and stability control. Vigna heralded consumerization as the 2nd wave of MEMS. There have been high-volume fabrication techniques, leading to higher performance/greater reliability at lower costs. He specifically pointed out the ‘Wii effect’! In this case, the high-volume commitment of vendors + UI benefits led to consumerization of MEMS.

Vigna added that MEMS has seen a speeding spiral of success in recent times. Earlier, it took 25 years from labs to fabs. Now, three product generations are developed and released in 12 months!

Another instance or example of the 2nd MEMS wave include the move from keyboard and mouse to free motion. In this case, the MEMS sensors change interaction with consumer electronics and propel new applications. There are now:
* Motion user interfaces in phones, games and remotes.
* Advanced navigation and location-based services.
* Free-fall protection in portable devices.


MEMS market
Vigna focused a moment on the MEMS motion sensors market 2009-2013 and the MEMS market. As far as the MEMS motion sensors market is concerned, accelerometers are likely to grow at 14.5 percent CAGR for the period 2009-2013. On the other hand, gyroscopes are likely to grow at 17.3 percent CAGR during 2009-2013.

Cell phones and CE is the major market segment in both cases, registering 19.5 percent CAGR and 25.4 percent CAGR, respectively, followed by automotive at 10.7 percent CAGR and 12.3 percent CAGR, respectively.

It is to be noted that in 2009, the overall MEMS market was almost flat compared to 2008, but volumes rose significantly, showing increasing penetration of MEMS in consumer devices.

Current trends in MEMS
Coming on to the current trends, MEMS is now pushing the limits of size and power — motion sensors are squeezing the footprint to 2×2 mm and current consumption well below 10uA in full operating mode. Multiple sensor integration is another trend. The integration of motion, magnetic, pressure and temperature sensors in a single package brings more degrees of freedom.

Embedded intelligence is the third key trend. The on-chip processing capabilities are enabling smart autonomous sensors and decreasing power consumption at the system level. Finally, software, is now the ‘S’ in MEMS! Vigna said that hardware and software integration is a key added value and differentiating factor. Read more…

Cadence: Plan verification to avoid mistakes!


Apurva Kalia

Apurva Kalia

Following Mentor Graphics, Cadence Design Systems Inc. has entered the verification debate. ;)  I met Apurva Kalia, VP R&D – System & Verification Group, Cadence Design Systems. In a nutshell, he advised that there needs to be proper verification planning in order to avoid mistakes. First, let’s try to find out the the biggest verification mistakes.

Top verification mistakes
Kalia said that the biggest verification mistakes made today are:
* Verification engineers do not define a structured notion of verification completeness.
* Verification planning is not done up front and is carried out as verification is going along.
* A well-defined reusable verification methodology is not applied.
* Legacy tools continue to be used for verification; new tools and technologies are not adopted.

In that case, why are some companies STILL not knowing how to verify a chip?

He added: “I would not describe the situation as companies not knowing how to verify a chip. Instead, I think a more accurate description of the problem is that the verification complexity has increased so much that companies do not know how to meet their verification goals.

“For example, the number of cycles needed to verify a current generation processor – as calculated by traditional methods of doing verification – is too prohibitive to be done in any reasonable timeframe using legacy verification methodologies. Hence, new methodologies and tools are needed. Designs today need to be verified together with software. This also requires new tools and methodologies. Companies are not moving fast enough to define, adopt and use these new tools and methodologies thereby leading to challenges in verifying a chip.”

Addressing challenges
How are companies trying to address the challenges?

Companies are trying to address the challenges in various ways:
* Companies at the cutting edge of designs and verification are indeed trying to adopt structured verification methodologies to address these challenges.

* Smaller companies are trying to address these challenges by outsourcing their verification to experts and by hiring more verification experts.

* Verification acceleration and prototyping solutions are being adopted to get faster verification and which will allow companies to do more verification in the same amount of time.

* Verification environment re-use helps to cut down the time required to develop verification environments.

* Key requirements of SoC integration and verification—including functionality, compliance, power, performance, etc.—are hardware/software debug efficiency, multi-language verification, low power, mixed signal, fast time to debug, and execution speed.

Cadence has the widest portfolio of tools to help companies meet verification challenges, including:

Incisive Enterprise Manager, which provides hierarchical verification technology for multiple IPs, interconnects, hardware/software, and plans to improve management productivity and visibility;

The recently launched vManager solution, a verification planning and management solution enabled by client/server technology to address the growing verification closure challenge driven by increasing design size and complexity;

Incisive Enterprise Verifier, which delivers dual power from tightly integrated formal analysis and simulation engines; and

Incisive Enterprise Simulator, which provides the most comprehensive IEEE language support with unique capabilities supporting the intent, abstraction, and convergence needed to speed silicon realization.

Are companies building an infrastructure that gets you business advantage? Yes, companies are realizing the problems. It is these companies that are the winners in managing today’s design and verification challenges, he said.

Good verification
When should good verification start?

Kalia noted: “Good verification should start right at the time of the high level architecture of the design. A verification strategy should be defined at that time, and an overall verification plan should be written at that time. This is where a comprehensive solution like Incisive vManager can help companies manage their verification challenges by ensuring that SoC developers have a consistent methodology for design quality enhancements.”

Are folks mistaking by looking at tools and not at the verification process itself?

He addded that right tools and methodology are needed to resolve today’s verification challenges. Users need to work on defining verification methodologies and at the same time look at the tools that are needed to achieve verification goals.

Verification planning
Finally, there’s verification planning! What should be the ‘right’ verification path?

Verification planning needs to include:

* A formal definition of verification goals;
* A formal definition of coverage goals at all levels – starting with code coverage all the way to functional coverage;
* Required resources – human and compute;
* Verification timelines;
* All the verification tools to be used for verification; and
* Minimum and maximum signoff criteria.

Skin inspired electronics for mobile health


Prof. Zhenan Bao

Prof. Zhenan Bao

Skin inspired electronics can be used for mobile health such as wireless sensor bands, cell phone and computer at doctor’s office, according to Prof. Zhenan Bao, Stanford University. She was delivering the inaugural lecture on day two of the ongoing 13th Global Electronics Summit in Santa Cruz, USA.

There are organic field-effect transistors (OTFTs). The current flow is moderated by binding of molecules and pressure. E-skin sensor functions have touch (pressure) sensors, chemical sensors and biological sensors. There are other flexible pressure sensors such as conductive rubber, which is thick and has hysteresis. Another type is poly-vinylidene fluoride (PVDF) thin film. Yet another type is the OTFT touch (pressure) sensor.

There is an example of the heart pulse measurement. Another related device is the full pulse wave for medical diagnostics such as blood pressure monitoring, detecting arrhythmia, heart defects and vascular diseases. In terms of temperature sensing, Stanford has developed a flexible body temperature sensor made of plastic.

There is chemical sensing as well. These are very stable and can be put in sea water. There are also electronics to mimic the body, such as the biodegradable OTFT. Another example is the transparent, stretchable pressure sensor. Finally, the other attribute of the human skin is self healing. Stanford University also developed the all-self-healing e-skin.

The e-skin concept ‘Super Skin’ has touch pressure sensors, chemical or biological sensors in air – electronic nose and liquid environments – electronic tongue, flexible strechable materials, biocompatible or biodegradable, self-powered — strechable solar cells and self healing.

Inertial micropump technology for microfluidic apps


Alexander Govyadinov

Alexander Govyadinov

At a MEMS Industry Group seminar in Orlando, US, Alexander Govyadinov, lead technologist, Hewlett-Packard Printing & Technology Development Organization said microfluidics looks at the movement of small amounts of fluids through microchannels.

The current microfluidic applications include pharmaceutical and life science research, clinical and veterinary diagnostics, human point-of-care, analytical devices, environment and industrial testing, and inhalers, micropumps and microneedles.

The microfluidic segment has been growing at 20 percent CAGR. By 2016, the $4.7 billion market size refers to the over 1 billion microfluidic chips and substrates. The GM for synthetic biology reached $1 billion in 2012.

Every fluidic system needs a pump. Although external pumps are commonly used, there is lack of simple, cheap and easy-to-integrate mcro-pumps.

There is passive capillary pump operation using capillaty retention valve (CRV). In a capillary-driven microfluidic device the chip is composed of microfluidic functional elements. There are rotary pumps as well. Rotating gears can be hard to integrate and require strong external actuators. Mostly, external pumps are available. There are pneumatic/membrane micropumps as well as external piezo pumps and active pumps.

In a thermal inkjet (TIJ), the voltage pulse heats the resistor and boils the fluid. Once, the droplet has been ejected, the chamber is refilled by capillary forces. HP has an inertial pump for microfluidics. There exists a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) inertial pump model. An optimal resistor location is available. There are 2mmx512 pump-channel arrays.

Vison for future micropump applications include generic fluidic network with reversible pumps. Pumps’ densities can be up to 1000 per inch2. There are concepts such as polymerase chain reactor and u-calorimeter total analysis system.

Microfluidics is a growing field. Inertial pump is a new way to move fluids through microchannels.

Top 10 semiconductor growth drivers: Intersil

February 16, 2012 2 comments

David Bell, president, CEO and director, Intersil Corp.

David Bell, president, CEO and director, Intersil Corp.

Intersil is a strong company with long heritage, according to David Bell, president, CEO and director, Intersil Corp. It is currently building intelligent, innovative leadership products, and targeting fast growing markets. India is key to Intersil’s success. He was speaking on the occasion of Intersil announcing expansion plans in India.

The company is a leader in high perfornance analog and mixed-signal ICs, and has 35 global locations, including 17 design centers, and had a revenue of $761 million in 2011. It offers a broad range of analog and mixed-signal products for power management, analog and mixed-signal and consumer products.

Intersil’s ‘asset-lite’ manufacturing benefits include access to advanced technologies, speciallized technologies that are retained in-house, flexible capacity and reduced risk. It is developing more integrated and intelligent products that simplify customers’ design process.

Top 10 growth drivers
According to Bell, the top 10 growth drivers today are: active cables, audio, automotive, dense power conversion, digital power management, digital power modules, PC power management, pico projectors, optical sensors and security surveillance. Read more…

MEMS devices driving healthcare apps!

November 11, 2011 2 comments

Frédéric Breussin, Yole Developpement, an expert in microfluidics for diagnostics and life sciences, recently presented on MEMS devices driving healthcare applications.

Source: Yole Developpement, France.

Source: Yole Developpement, France.

According to him, microsystem technologies are changing the healthcare industry. New in-vitro diagnostic systems, new therapy strategies, genetic disease treatment, targeted and intelligent drug delivery, artificial pancreas, drug discovery processes are healthcare improvements promised to future generations.

Microsystem devices, including MEMS devices, SI based sensors, Microfluidic chips and Bio sensors find many applications in healthcare markets:
* Pharmaceutical research market ($870 billion worldwide 2010),
* In-vitro diagnostics ($57 billion worldwide 2010),
* Medical devices ($255 billion worldwide 2010), and
* Medical home care ($54 billion worldwide 2010).

Within these applications, the MEMS/microsystem technologies market for healthcare will grow from $1.4 billion in 2010 to $4.5 billion in 2015, which represents over 1 billion units per year in 2015. The largest markets are microfluidic devices and bio-sensors for diagnostic and pharmaceutical applications. However, one should keep in mind that the unit price is relatively high, and that the microfluidic market is very segmented in terms of “biological” applications and players. Read more…

DIT outlines initiatives to promote ESDM in India


The Department of IT, Government of India, recently organized a workshop on electronics system design and manufacturing (ESDM), conducted by the India Semiconductor Association (ISA). Dr. Ajay Kumar, joint secretary, Dept. of IT, Government of India, touched upon some major initiatives to promote ESDM. These include:

* Setting up two semiconductor wafer fabs for manufacture of chips.
* Introducing Modified Special Incentive Package Scheme to encourage manufacture of high-priority electronic products in India.
* Provide incentives for setting up of electronics manufacturing clusters.
* Setting up of the National Electronics Mission (NEM).
* Providing Preferential Market Access to domestically manufactured electronics products for government procurement and procurement by government licensees.
* Setting up of “Electronic Development Fund”.

Some of the other initiatives to promote ESDM include:
* Draft National Policy for Electronics, 2011 released for public consultation on October 3, 2011. Comments invited till end October.
* Additional items  included under ESDM for benefit of Special Focus Scheme under the Foreign Trade Policy recently.
* Mandating health and safety standards for 16 major electronic items under finalization in consultation with BIS.
* Private sector participation in human resource development being promoted.
* Sector specific initiatives for set-top boxes, medical electronics, avionics, industrial electronics, automotive electronics, LEDs, strategic electronics for defense, space and nuclear.
* Awareness creation and interest generation domestically and globally.
* Renaming the Department as Department of Electronics and IT (DeitY).

The semiconductor design industry in India consists of VLSI design, board/hardware design and embedded software development. The size was estimated at $6.5 billion in 2009 and is expected to log a CAGR of 17.3 percent over the next three years to reach $10.6 billion in 2012. Nearly 2,000 chips are being designed each year and more than 20,000 engineers being engaged in various aspects of chip designing and verification. Read more…

Steve Jobs: Master of the game!


Steve Jobs. Source: Apple.

Steve Jobs. Source: Apple.

This morning, I woke up to find the headline staring at me: Steve Jobs has died! RIP, Steve Jobs!

I first had a look at the Apple Mac while at SBP Consultants & Engineers back in 1988. I was pleasantly surprised to find a computer that could do desktop publishing that well! By then, Jobs had gone out of Apple, fired by John Sculley, then Apple’s CEO, sometime in 1985.

Jobs only returned to Apple in 1996, a time when he had floated PIXAR and of course, NeXT — the company that Apple eventually bought and with that, returned Jobs to Apple. The rest, as they say, is history!

First, Jobs, and of course, Apple, brought color to computers, when the iMac line was launched. I remember seeing the entire line in Hong Kong! The iMacs were followed by the ‘now very well known’ iBook!

Next, Jobs focused on the music industry, and that led to the creation of the revolutionary iPod, as well as the Apple Store. I remember several suppliers in Hong Kong and China telling me that they were grateful to Apple for ‘rewriting the musical devices history’ with the iPod. Those suppliers were very much in business, and continue to remain so, till today.

And then, the iPhone happened in 2007! The iPhone 4S, launched yesterday, serves as a reminder of Jobs’ vision and strategy. The iPhone caught everyone in the telecom industry napping! Suddenly, there was a rush to produce iPhone clones or iPhone-like phones. Of course, this also hit a major telecom player in a big way!

Today, smartphones are all the rage! But, believe it or not, no one, yes, no one, has actually come close to what Apple and Steve Jobs have managed to do with the iPhone.

The revolutionary iPad, which hit the streets in 2010, literally gave a new lease of life to computing! It also opened a new section – tablets – in front of the computing world. Today, all of the tablets that you get to see from numerous players is only because of Jobs’ and Apple’s magnificient vision!

This August, Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO. Who knew that he would pass away to eternity in early October? There is a message on Apple’s site, which I am pasting here:

“Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.”

Need to work toward sustainable future: imec

September 5, 2011 2 comments

Luc Van den hove, president and CEO, imec.

Luc Van den hove, president and CEO, imec.

At an ISA CXO Conclave, Luc Van den hove, president and CEO, imec, said that we need to work toward a sustainable future. Started in 1984, Leuven, Belgium-based imec performs world leading research in nanoelectronics. He touched upon some research programs currently undertaken by imec.

Green radio is for low-power wireless communications. Technologies would be 1000K energy efficient. He added: “We are also developing low cost, low-power reconfigurable radios. Further, we feel that videos will dominate mobile phones.”

Another innovation, E-Nose, can be used for air quality, safety, food and well being. Human++ BAN life sciences, is yet another innovation. Now, the cost of healthcare is said to be exploding. By 2030, over 1 billion people will be over 65+ years. imec is developing body area network. According to imec, wearable wireless sensors can grow to over $400 million by 2014.

imec is working on technologies ranging from bio sensors to lab-on-chip. “We are also working on implantable devices such as microprobes,” said Van den hove. imec is also working on the NVision technology. According to estimates, there will likely be 78.1 million 3D TVs by 2012. Van den hove said, “we are developing holographic visualization.”

On energy, he said that renewable energy was growing in importance. “We are working on solar, storage, switching, etc. As an example, we have replaced Ag (silver) with Cu (copper) metallization.” Organic solar cells is yet another technology imec’s working on.”

In power electronics, imec is working on GaN power devices. “We also have a program for boosting chip performance and system functionality,” he added. “We are also exploring the third dimension — DRAM on logic.”

CMORE, is said to be more than CMOS, as well as MEMS, sensors, photonics, SiGe based metals/devices. In organic electronics, imec and Holst have developed the first plastic microprocessor, which was introduced in 2011. imec has research programs for full ecosystems as well.

Van den hove noted: “We also celebrate the launch of imec India. We want to develop sustainable nanoelectronic solutions. For example, rural India drives the mobile phone growth. India is also driving e-health.” In Arise Labs, imec has provided the nanoelectronic platform, technology and design expertise, application programming and strong industry network.

Semicon industry at inflection point of innovation: Rich Beyer


Rich Beyer, chairman and CEO, Freescale Semiconductor, at the Freescale Technology Forum 2011, in Bangalore, India.

Rich Beyer, chairman and CEO, Freescale Semiconductor.

Rich Beyer, chairman and CEO, Freescale Semiconductor.

Prior to this year’s FTF, Freescale marked another milestone in our company’s history. We have returned to the public trading arena with our IPO on May 26.  We used the proceeds from the IPO to pay down a portion of our debt and reduce our interest expense. This will enable Freescale to continue to grow our investments in products, software, sales and customer support. We are confident, as a result, we will continue to offer you even better world class solutions.

Having publicly traded stock will also give us more flexibility than just available cash to fund potential acquisitions and future innovation investments that will reinforce our competitive differentiation moving forward. And, the IPO is a strong affirmation that Freescale is on a very successful trajectory in the eyes of the investment community! While we have changed to become a publicly traded company, we have not changed our vision or our strategic focus. Our vision remains the same: we are committed to being the leader in embedded processing solutions.

We will continue to build on our market leadership positions by focusing on our core strengths: embedded processors, applications processors, microcontrollers and DSPs; RF, analog and sensors; and the software that delivers a clear competitive advantage to our customers.

Era of connected intelligence
Over the past several years, we have entered the era of connected intelligence where embedded processing is driving the Internet of Things. In the PC era of the past, processing was centralized within a traditional computing environment. Users relied heavily on computing hardware and rigid software to perform desired tasks.

In today’s era of connected intelligence, data is ubiquitous, and we expect our electronic devices to conform to us. We want them to be social and mobile. They are aware of our surroundings, and they understand and adapt to the context in which we are using them. They are always on and they are always with us.

Semiconductor innovation
We are at an inflection point in what is driving semiconductor innovation. In the PC era, the focus was on the sheer performance of the processor. The power consumption implications were handled by a building bigger box, adding a cooling fan or using a larger battery.

In the era of Connected Intelligence, embedded processing performance needs to be balanced with power efficiency, and system capability is enabled by the intelligent integration of sensor, RF and analog interfaces and the usage of efficient, system sparing software.

The insatiable demand for connectivity will continue to push the industry for solutions that deliver more performance, improved efficiency and lower operating costs. Semiconductor innovation now is being driven by embedded processing solutions with a system-level view and developed with an application-level expertise that is critical to efficient and timely implementation. Read more…

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