Piezo MEMS Market Heats Up

Article By : George Leopold

MEMS sensor vendor Vesper Technologies Inc. closed an $8 million funding round this week led by the venture arm of Applied Materials.

The MEMS sensor market continues to heat up as well-known investors target emerging piezeoelectric technology being incorporated into consumer devices such as microphones used in home virtual assistants. Case in point, piezeoelectric MEMS sensor vendor Vesper Technologies Inc. closed an $8 million funding round this week led by the venture arm of Applied Materials Inc. Amazon Alexa Fund and Bose Ventures are among other investors in Vesper, which is transitioning microphone production from capacitive to piezoelectric MEMS architectures. The Boston-based MEMS designer has so far raised $65 million, and said it would use Applied Material’s financing to scale production of its piezioelectric technology to meet growing demand for ever-smaller microphones. Vesper said it expects to scale production to ship billions of MEMS-based devices. Applied Ventures said its investment adds Vesper to its roster of partners within its “Materials to Systems” initiative. Those investments reflect growing demand for emerging MEMS sensor technologies aimed at what market tracker Yole Développement dubs the “Internet of Voice” era. That market is largely driven by ubiquitous home virtual assistants. Yole estimates the MEMS microphone segment alone will grow at an annual rate of 5.4 percent through 2025 to $1.7 billion. Thin-film piezo-based devices are gradually catching up with bulk piezoelectric materials that as of last year continued to drive the overall market, Yole said. Still, the market analyst predicts investments in thin-film technologies by key consumer vendors like Alexa maker Amazon portend what it called “a momentum-building transition” to smaller, cheaper MEMS devices. Indeed, growing demand for MEMS-based microphones in smart speakers, wireless earbuds, smart TVs and remotes along with other emerging devices are creating demand for smaller sensors based on thin-film technology. New piezoelectric films developed by Applied Materials are destined for MEMS devices manufactured by Vesper and others, offering smaller size and reduce cost while increasing signal-to-noise ratio, Yole said. Overall, Yole forecasts the overall piezoelectric market for sensors, actuators and transducers will grow at an annual rate of 12.6 percent through 2024 to $48.5 billion. Thin-film technologies are expected to account for a larger percentage of market growth. Catching that wave are MEMS manufacturers like Vesper. The privately-held company was spun out of the University of Michigan, where its co-founder developed proprietary piezoelectric MEMS technology. The company received initial funding from NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Vesper has so far developed more than 20 MEMS-based products, including what it claims is the first piezoelectric MEMS microphone. Robert Littrell, Vesper co-founder and CTO, based the company’s piezoelectric-acoustic MEMS transducer design on his mechanical engineering doctoral thesis. This article was originally published on EE Times.
George Leopold has written about science and technology from Washington, D.C., since 1986. Besides EE Times, Leopold's work has appeared in The New York Times, New Scientist, and other publications. He resides in Reston, Va.

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