A thorough look at 18(!) MEMS players and the market as of mid-2018
MADISON, Wis. — Neither Robert Bosch nor STMicroelectronics garnered the top spot in the 2017 MEMS market rankings. The biggest MEMS vendor in the world today is, drum roll please, Broadcom.
Who’d have thunk it?
Last year, Broadcom surpassed — for the first time — all the usual suspects in the MEMS industry, thanks to a sales boom of RF MEMS, according to a MEMS report this week by Yole Développement (Lyon, France).
In a phone interview with EE Times, Eric Mounier, senior analyst for MEMS devices and technologies at Yole, explained that complexities associated with 4G — requiring a handset to support many bands — triggered an unparalleled demand spike for RF filters. With it came a thirst for RF MEMS. This phenomenon will only intensify as the industry moves to 5G, he noted.
Yole sees RF MEMS (BAW filters) as one of the strongest engines pushing the overall MEMS market. Yole predicts that excluding RF, MEMS market would grow at 9 percent over 2011-2023, while with RF MEMS, CAGR is 17.5 percent.
Twenty years ago, MEMS might have been viewed as a quaint niche in the total IC market. That no longer holds true. In 2017, MEMS, sensors and actuators generated 11 percent of $420 billion in global chip sales. The MEMS share in the overall semiconductor market will only grow further. Mournier predicts an increase to “15 to 20 percent” by 2023.
Mobile and automotive are the two largest segments further pushing demand for MEMS. Yole predicts the mobile segment in 2023 will create $53 billion in value for sensors and actuators, with $20.5 billion in automotive. Following the MEMS trend will be Industry 4.0 ($4.6 billion), healthcare ($2.3 billion) and voice processing ($1.4 billion).
Looking back on the early days of MEMS, between the 1980s and ’90s, Mournier noted that MEMS was all about basic sensors detecting things like mechanical movements, pressures or shocks. “Those sensors weren’t very accurate,” he said.
Since the millenium, improved electronics and materials used in MEMS have made the sensors accurate enough to measure things, Mounier said. Rotation sensing and visible light management (DLP) became accessible to MEMS. By the mid-2000s, sound and IR wavelength were added to MEMS technologies, he noted.
In short, MEMS shifted from physical sensors to light management (such as micro mirrors), then to infra-red sensing (microbolometers). MEMS development has also been driven by sound with microphones.
The MEMS revolution has led to the first sensor that outperforms human senses. Today, MEMS and sensor developments are poised to “go far beyond human capabilities with sensing capabilities in ultra-sonic, hyperspectral, radio-frequency and others,” according to Mounier.
The hottest trend in MEMS is sensor fusion. By integrating multiple sensors into one package, MEMS can capture “global environment perception,” Mounier explained.
Let’s not forget, as sensors flock together, users expect the sensor package’s software to combine sensory data and generate a certain level of intelligence. The next milestone is the Vulcan mind-meld of sensors and AI.
Although sensor fusion is unmistakably popular in automotive and smartphones, the industry remains divided as to where it should take place. Some companies are processing data much closer to the sensor. Others advocate late data fusion. Mounier acknowledged that the industry debate is far from over.
The fastest growing sensors?
Today, looking at sensor revenues by device category, CMOS imaging is tops at $13.4 billion in 2017, followed by RF, radars and fingerprint sensors.
But if you ask about the fastest sensors in 2023, 3D is the odds-on favorite. Pointing out high demand for lidars, Mounier pegged the compound annual growth rate of 3D sensors at 40 percent.
MEMS winners and losers
MEMS products are diverse, driven by diverging market forces. A a result, winners and losers among MEMS vendors tend to change around.
Today, Broadcom’s MEMS business has shown the sharpest upward trajectory, thanks to RF MEMS.
Bosch, number two in the market, remains one of the most stable MEMS players. Mounier observed that because it hedges its bets by covering two contrasting MEMS market segments — consumers and automotive — Bosh has been “quite successful” in securing steady growth.
In contrast, STMicroelectronics’ MEMS business “faces challenges,” said Mounier, largely because Apple has been ST’s only big customer. Meanwhile, ST has been struggling to make waves in the automotive and industrial MEMS markets.
Knowles, one of the high-profile MEMS companies, is seeing flat revenue, largely because of intensifying competition in the MEMS microphone market.
Texas Instruments has been struggling largely because the micromirror is its only MEMS product. TI’s success hinges on lidars, said Mounier. If micromirrors can be successfully used in lidars, TI’s MEMS business will substantially change.
Who are the MEMS foundries?
In 2017, ST remained the top MEMS foundry thanks to HP’s inkjet business.
Asked about notable changes in the foundry market, Mounier dropped a few surprises. He cited the strong growth of Teledyne DALSA (Waterloo, Canada). Teledyne DALSA boosted sales by $10 million just in one year to $60 million in 2017. Calling itself “one of the world’s foremost pure-play MEMS foundries,” the Canadian company boasts its ability to produce across many device types. These range from micro-mirrors for telecommunication, gyro sensors for game controllers and microfluidic devices for miniaturized medical systems to automotive pressure, inertial sensors for automobiles and microphones for smartphones.
Silex Microsystems (Sweden) is another pure-play MEMS foundry that has grown rapidly. The company expanded its foundry business from $41 million in 2016 to $50 million in 2017.
For Mounier, however, the big surprise is Philips Innovation Services located in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Spun out of Philips R&D, the company appears to be attracting many — still unnamed — customers. Philips Innovation Services is pitching its ability to design, develop and deliver a custom MEMS device and assemble micro devices. Touting 140 experts working at the company’s MEMS foundry, the Dutch company is offering “MEMS prototyping, MEMS process development and MEMS manufacturing.”
Driving diversity and advancing MEMS’ future are startups that invent new types of MEMS technologies and try out different materials.
Hot MEMS startups include USound, which is “moving very fast to roll out MEMS microspeakers by 2019,” said Mounier, in addition to Vesper, a piezoelectric microphone company that recently raised $23 million from investors including Amazon. Lidar companies such as RoboSense and Innoviz are also getting a lot of attention, he noted, as the automotive indsutry’s cravings for lidars conntinue. Chirp Microsystems — with 3D sensing technology — was gobbled up by TDK earlier this year. He also cited a French startup called Mistic, “doing titanium MEMs for biocompatible medical devices.”
EE Times got Yole’s help to identify 17 MEMS startups that are noteworthy. Mounier cautioned that the list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it offers an overview of where MEMS is heading.
We list the MEMS startups in alphabetical order.
17 MEMS startups to watch
AdaSky founded in 2015 in Israel has developed a far infrared (FIR) sensor that offers high-resolution images, aiming to enable autonomous vehicles to see and interpret all objects and surroundings, in all conditions.
AdaSky’s advanced thermal camera guides the vehicle to sense and analyze its surroundings “by passively collecting FIR signals through detection of thermal energy radiated from objects and their body heat,” the company explained.
The thermal camera is small, light and energy-efficient with no moving parts, at a price suited for mass market, AdaSky claimed.
AdaSky also offers image processing and computer vision algorithms. Its object detection and scene analysis provide “a new layer of information and the ability to precisely detect pedestrians 200 meters away or more, allowing more distance in which to react to driving decisions.”
Noting that FIR technology has been used for decades in other vertical industries, AdaSky noted that it is adapting this mature technology specifically for autonomous vehicles. Adasky noted that it performs best when other sensors, including lidar, radar, and standard cameras, can’t see.
AEye (Pleasanton, Calif.) founded in 2013 develops advanced vision hardware, software and algorithms for autonomous vehicles.
In contrast to first-generation lidar technologies, AEye’s”iDAR” optimizes data collection. It uses data pre-fused with a low-light camera and embedded AI. Enabling intelligent prioritization and interrogation, this lidar, the company claims, can “target and identify objects within a scene 10 to 20-times more effectively than lidar-only products.”
AEye raised $16.35 million in June, 2017 in its series A venture round from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Airbus Ventures, Intel Capital, Tyche Partners and others.
Block Engineering (Southborough, MA), has been known for 60 years as a leader in chemical detection and gas analysis technology. Although new to MEMS, the company is developing a pen-size, battery-operated FTIR (Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy) sensor, named as “ChemPen,” which can detect essentially any gas, liquid or solid.
The company is pitching “mobile instrumentation.” Block hopes to turn its own unique MEMS chips into the “engines” inside handheld-type devices, so that its ChemPen sensor can analyze substances both inside and outside the traditional laboratory setting.
Block says the ChemPen Sensor is intended to detect and identify all Chemical Warfare Agents and Toxic Industrial Chemicals under field conditions. Its target markets include the military, homeland security and life safety.
Chirp Microsystems (Berkeley, Calif.), founded in 2013, offers a single-chip ultrasonic time-of-flight (ToF) sensor. Users can interact with wearable devices without touching screens, or interact with devices without a screen. Leveraging its ultrasonic sensing, the company believes its 3D technology can replace existing UIs or add “another modality” to wearables, AR/VR, smartphones, IoT and even automotive.
Speaking of Chirp’s technology, Michelle Kiang, Chirp CEO explained, “Its size, cost, extremely low power consumption, and the fact that it works under any lighting conditions, including direct sunlight, will be a huge advantage when used in mobile products.” Chirp has potential to add its sonar-on-chip to the intensifying ToF battle in smartphones.
Earlier this year, Chirp built on the miniaturization of MEMS ultrasound sensors — a breakthrough by a team of researchers and engineers at the University of California at Berkeley and Davis — was snatched up by TDK.
ELichens, a research and development startup founded in Grenoble, France in 2014, seeks to provide services and sensing solutions for hyper-local air quality.
The company’s sensing technology can help customers detect, monitor, coach, and predict air quality for indoor and outdoor applications and services.
To monitor air quality and detect the presence of hazardous gas in industrial environments, for example, eLichens has low-power micro gas sensors and a connected station that gathers multiple gas sensors.
ELichen also developed technology solutions necessary in designing a ventilation system for HVAC.
In ventilation development, one key is to consider a system that can not only lessen the levels of Co2, but also would not make Co2 concentrations so low that there is no impact on human decision-making. Indoor air quality is a huge factor in mental acuity and general health. To measure air quality indoors and provide this information to a ventilation system, eLichens has developed sensors to measure several types of indoor pollutants: Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and Particulate Matter (PM2.5 & PM10).
ELichens’ technology can be similarly applied to smart city, gas leak monitoring, smart homes and automotive-in-cabin.
Innoluce (Nijmegen, Netherlands), a developer of miniature laser scanning modules for ToF LiDARs, was acquired by Infineon in October 2016.
Its claim-to-fame is patented 1D MEMS mirrors built from silicon. The technology is said to come with the freedom to modify the mirror diameter and frequency while maintaining optical performance. This enables the resonant 1D MEMS mirror technology to offer different functions and a broad range of applications.
Innoviz is a startup founded in 2016 in Israel by former members of the technological unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. The company focuses on developing lidar sensors for autonomous vehicles “at the cost and size necessary for mass market adoption,” according to Innoviz. The company’s products are based on solid-state design.
The startup is connected with a host of strategic partners and top-tier investors. They include Aptiv (Delphi Automotive), Magna International, Samsung Catalyst, SoftBank Ventures Korea, 360 Capital Partners, Glory Ventures and Naver.
Total funding for Innoviz has reached $82 million. With the latest series B round, the startup raised $73 million in the fall of 2017.
MEMSDRIVE (Pasadena, Calif.) is a developer of MEMS-based actuator devices. Its goal is to design optical image stabilization (OIS) technology for mobile devices.
The startup showed at the Consumer Electronics Show the first 5-axis OIS (optical image stabilization) technology in smartphones. By shifting the sensor, the company claims that MEMS OIS could provide fast and accurate image stabilization against the motion of the camera.
The company, founded in 2014, raised $11 million in its series B funding in 2016.
Menlo Micro Inc.
Menlo Micro Inc. (Irvine, Calif.), founded in 2016, is developing a “digital-micro-switch platform.” Noting that traditional electromechanical switch technology has seen little innovation, Menlo Micro is developing “unique materials, designs, and processing techniques” to build an enhanced electronic switch that can handle high temperature and high-stress conditions for products that must last decades.
The company claims its new switch “operates up to 1000x faster than a typical mechanical switch, can handle hundreds of Watts of power and is built in a structure smaller than a human hair.” Menlo Micro plans to target mobile infrastructure — including 5G network — and industrial IoT markets for its new digital micro switch.
Menlo Micro is backed by GE Ventures, with investments from Corning Incorporated, Microsemi Corporation, and Paladin Capital Group. The company announced in 2016 that it raised $18.7 million.
Mistic SAS is a startup in Paris, France, focused on the development of titanium-based MEMS technology, for the medical device market and other industries.
Founded in 2016, Mistic SAS takes advantage of the fruits of research activities led by a consortium of academic and industrial partners since early the 2010s.
The core of Mistic’s technology is the transposing of semiconductor nano- and micro-fabrication technologies to titanium substrates (“wafers”). It enables the supply of multifunctional titanium based components with tolerances down to 1µm, according to Mistic.
Mechanical and electrical features are implemented by using the selective deposition and etching processes of various materials.
To address the most stringent biocompatibility requirements, the components are micro-engineered using exclusively biocompatible and noble materials. They include titanium, titanium oxide, titanium nitride, gold, platinum and aluminum oxide, with the possibility to work with any material specified by the customer.
Earlier this year Mistic announced a long-term partnership with ESIEE Paris, a graduate school of engineering located in Marne-la-Vallée. This allows Mistic to settle its pilot manufacturing line in new cleanrooms at ESIEE Paris.
The arrangement also allows Mistic to take advantage of infrastructure, knowledge, full-time team and specific equipment available on EISEE Paris, according to Mistic.
Proteus Digital Health, Inc.
Proteus Digital Health (Redwood City, Calif.), founded in 2001, is a developer of ingestible sensors. Called “Digital Medicines,” these ingestible sensors — the size of a grain of sand — are intended to ensure that patients take medication as prescribed.
Sensors inside Digital Medicines an track dosage and consumption. Data goes to a wearable patch that detects medicines and captures physiologic response. It is relayed to a mobile app readable by patient and doctor. Meanwhile, data analytics help out health system managers, according to Proteus. Digital Medicines are in commercial use in the United States.
Late last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration green-lighted Otsuka Pharmaceutical to market a version of its antipsychotic drug Abilify with an ingestible sensor embedded in the tablet.
The company raised a total of $422.3 million thus far.
RoboSense (Suteng Innovation Technology Co. Ltd.), a developer of autonomous driving lidar, was founded in 2014 by a group of PhDs from Harbin Institute of Technology.
RoboSense has rolled out its first HD solid-state lidar. The new MEMS-based lidar can collect in real time 3D high-precision environment information. It replaces mechanical rotating parts with a micro-mirror structure, simplifying the lidar’s laser components and making the product cost competitive. RoboSense claims that its high precision control technology brings its LiDAR “excellent scanning performance to deliver highly accurate and ultra-high-resolution cloud points at a higher data rate.”
Besides a R&D center headquartered in Shenzhen, China, the company has R&D centers in Beijing and Silicon Valley. The company has a team of 200 people, not including production employees.
Tikitin Ltd. (Espoo, Finland) is a MEMS Resonator company founded in 2016. The company’s focus is on such application areas as timing and frequency control.
Tikitin claims to be the first company to introduce silicon MEMS resonators that are pin-to-pin compatible to quartz crystals. Their resonators, therefore, can be driven by the same circuits used for quartz — “without any redesign,” according to the company.
Tikitin is manufacturing MEMS resonators in Espoo, a pilot and research wafer fab run by VTT. Reportedly, prototypes have been delivered to customers and that subject to these meeting qualifications. Tikitin expects to go into commercial production this year.
USound GmbH (Graz, Austria), founded in 2014, develops piezoelectric MEMS technology and offers a MicroSound MEMS platform that makes high-performance silicon speakers with integrated sensing functions.
The platform allows designers to create MEMS microspeakers to be designed into smartphones and in-ear headphones.
The startup has raised 11 million euros in VC and 6 million euros in public funding.
Vesper (Boston), founded in 2009, is a rising star in the MEMS microphone market. It’s poised to capitalize on the rise of voice computing with its small, rugged, low-power MEMS microphone chips.
Unlike competitors who offer capacitive MEMS microphones, Vesper has gone for piezoelectric microphones developed by co-founders Bobby Littrell and Karl Grosh at the University of Michigan.
The startup describes its piezoelectric mics as “operating on a completely different physical principle from all other MEMS and electret condenser-style audio devices.” The piezoelectric MEMS microphones directly convert sound wave energy into an electrical signal. In addition to better SNR, Vesper claims its mics are “uniquely suited for large-array applications in smartphones, tablets, smart home devices and other connected products.” Vesper executives have said that Vesper’s piezoelectric design uses a single diaphragm immune to dust, water, solder flux vapors and similar contaminants.
Most recently, Vesper made waves by raising $23 million in series B funding. American Family Ventures, Baidu, Amazon’s Alex Fund, and Bose Ventures participated. This is the Alexa Fund’s second round of investment in Vesper.
Vesper has thus far raised $40 million. It reportedly will use part of the latest funding to expand its manufacturing capacity to 12 million units per month, up from its current capacity in the “single-digit millions” of units per month.
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
VTT (based in Espoo) is a leading research and technology company in the Nordic countries.
Most notably, earlier this year, VTT developed hyperspectral imaging technology that enables new artificial intelligence applications in consumer devices. Spectral filtering technology leverages the very-near-infrared (VNIR) wavelengths, which, VTT claims, even low-cost mobile phone cameras can detect. “Artificial intelligence can be used to interpret the environmental spectral data within images, which is not visible to the naked eye,” according to VTT.
Spectral data of image objects can then generate “information related e.g. to food safety or freshness, distinguishing between real and fake products, medicines, or security camera recordings.”
VTT claims the bill-of-materials for the new VNIR range (600 – 900 nm) hyperspectral camera sensor hardware can be as low as $150. With mass-producible MEMS technology, VTT’s tuneable filter technology can also be integrated with any camera sensor without significantly increasing cost or size. VTT estimates that sensor cost, including camera optics, is less than $20. The core component, the micro-opto-electro-mechanical (MOEMS) chip, could cost less than one dollar.
Zebra Analytix (Fayetteville, Ark.) was founded to develop and commercialize miniature gas chromatography (GC) systems based on MEMS technology exclusively licensed from Virginia Tech University. The patent-pending technology offers microfabricated chips capable of multi-channel separation. Advantages include vastly decreased instrument size, versatility, portability, and speed of results.
The company claims that its miniature gas chromatography systems can be operated by non-experts to analyze volatile compounds within seconds. Due to its potential applications for wearable and portable detection, Zebra says its GC systems are getting attentions from the fields of health care, environmental monitoring, industrial, petrochemical and automotive applications, building automation, and homeland security, especially driven by global government regulations for safety.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times