Monday, February 27, 2006

"CHIPS: Digital MEMS mic put on single chip"

Even the whizziest, most cutting-edge digital systems still use microphones that are based on 50-year-old analog electret technologies. Now, all that will change with the announcement this week of an all-digital MEMS microphone--the first to harness standard chip-processing techniques. The single-chip solution from Akustica Inc. offers more than digital outputs that match the digital processor and memories in PCs, PDAs, Bluetooth headsets and cell phones. It also promises to leverage the scaling power of CMOS chips to finally merge this formerly analog component with the mainstream of digital signal processing. Akustica, which is based in Pittsburgh and has 42 employees, will announce the MEMS mic at the Globalpress Electronics Summit, which starts today in Monterey, Calif. Akustica's one-chip model AKU2000 microphone builds on five years of MEMS development of intellectual property the startup licensed from nearby Carnegie Mellon University. Its inventor is MEMS pioneer Kaigham (Ken) Gabriel, an EE professor at Carnegie Mellon who co-founded Akustica in 2001. Gabriel researched MEMS at AT&T Bell Labs and spent five years managing MEMS development as director of the Electronics Technology Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. He now says that Akustica's first product is the first single-chip microphone in the world to use CMOS. Akustica may need that capacity--that is, if analysts are right about the size of the market it plans to serve. From cell phones to voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) to PDAs and PCs, industry analysts variously forecast that the microphone market could grow to nearly 1 billion units during the next decade from at least 82 million units in 2005.