Thursday, December 28, 2006

"MEMS: Yesterday to tomorrow at Analog Devices"

Today, startup companies are touting microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) as a new growth area, but Analog Devices claims it has been pioneering MEMS chips since 1989. Since then, ADI has shipped hundreds of millions of accelerometers for automobile applications, and just this year broke into consumer electronics by shipping more than one million three-axis accelerometers for Nintendo's Wii video-game controller. The company's MEMS chips will also eventually take on applications as varied as microphones; acoustics; medical diagnostics; drug delivery; RF-switches, -resonators, "oscillators, and "filters. Hear ADI tell all in this question-and-answer session.

"MEMS: chips accelerate for drive to market"

Akustica Inc. (Pittsburgh)--the world's only digital MEMS microphone maker--put a second notch on its belt recently when it announced that Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp. will use its MEMS mics in an entry-level model of the LifeBook tablet PC line. The LifeBook has two AKU2000 CMOS MEMS microphone chips in its display bezel--one for horizontal operation and one for vertical. Meanwhile, quartz crystal makers are scrambling to keep up with the MEMS trend, with several manufacturers hedging their bets by jointly developing MEMS oscillators with startups like SiTime Corp.'s deal with Micro Crystal and Ecliptek. Discera has also been busy of late signing up quartz crystal maker Vectron as well as new distributors for its MEMS oscillators.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"OPTICAL: IBM claims photonics speed record"

Silicon photonics could someday replace $10,000 optical-to-electrical-to-optical converters with $1 CMOS chips and enable on-chip data communications with photons, not the electrons used today. But the road to silicon photonics is fraught with peril. Doomsayers originally insisted that silicon's indirect bandgap forever favored direct bandgap materials like indium-gallium-arsenide (InGaAs), but history proved those compounds were too difficult to integrate. Now, researchers at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center say they've clinched the case for silicon photonics by announcing new world's records for silicon photonics speed, density and bandwidth. IBM said its demonstration chip, a CMOS optical delay line, proves that silicon photonics will ultimately achieve the "holy grail" — optics on chips at integration levels rivaling those of electronic CMOS integration.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"MEMS: Best-practice definition varies by vendor"

To hear vendors tell it, the only right way to do microelectromechanical systems is "my way." So, what method of fabricating MEMS is really best? Which is preferable: MEMS-first or MEMS-last? Are proprietary processes best, or should MEMS methods be able to run on any foundry line? Are different approaches better for different applications? All vendors agree that the holy grail is seamless integration of MEMS structures onto the same CMOS chips as the circuitry to which they interface. But only one MEMS startup claims to be there already, though that vendor adds a step to the standard CMOS fabrication process.

"MEMS: Quartz, MEMS will meet"

A new entrant in the emerging timing-chip market plans to create the world's first hybrid timing chips that include both quartz crystals and MEMS components. Silicon Clocks Inc. is sampling its first timing chip, which is slated for mass production in 2007. The quartz crystal-based device will offer frequencies as high as 650 MHz, whereas existing quartz crystals peter out around 150 MHz. The chip has a unique architecture for which several patents have been filed, said company founder Andrew McCraith. In the future, the architecture will be extended to MEMS-based oscillators, he said, the first models of which will integrate multiple resonators on the same chip.

Monday, December 11, 2006

"CHIPS: Polymer slims wafer-level chip-scale packages"

Tessera Technologies Inc. (San Jose, Calif.) announced today (Dec. 11) what it says is one of the slimmest surface-mountable wafer-level chip-scale packages (WLCSPs) available for camera modules, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and optical detectors. The Shellcase Razor Thin (RT) package uses a thin polymer on one side, instead of the previous two-sided, glass sandwich, to decrease the package profile to 0.5 millimeter from the 0.9 mm of the previous Shellcase package. The RT version also sheds heat more easily than its predecessor, is insensitive to moisture and is more rugged overall, making it suitable for automotive, aerospace and military applications as well as consumer electronics, according to Tessera.

"CHIPS: Embedded superlattice slashes gate leakage"

CMOS devices isolate transistor gates from their channels with supposedly impenetrable oxides. But as chips scale below the 65-nanometer node, those oxides become so thin that applying enough voltage to turn on a transistor also enables a percentage of the electrons charging the gate to tunnel through the oxide into the channel. Mears Technologies addresses the leakage problem by adding an embedded superlattice during the construction of a transistor's channel to enhance current flow in the plane of the channel, while simultaneously blocking current flow perpendicular to the channel, thereby mitigating gate leakage. It claims its sili- con-on-silicon superlattice can reduce gate leakage by 70 to 90 percent, while increasing current drive in the channel.

"CHIPS: Doping ups OLED efficiency"

Organic LEDs promise to enable "spray on" displays covering entire walls and conforming to almost any form factor. But OLEDs' lower efficiency makes them dimmer and lower in contrast than conventional, inorganic LEDs. Now a chemist and an EE at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claim to have hit upon a solution that increases OLED efficiency to 85 percent from 25 percent.

Monday, December 04, 2006

"CHIPS: Chip closes distance to real-time 3-D images"

The problem with machine vision is that the cameras are two-dimensional recorders of three-dimensional scenes. Objects in an image may be obscured by lighting, occluded by obstacles or camouflaged by similar colors in the background. Sophisticated software can sometimes piece together ob- jects from subtle cues, such as when two camera positions are used to reveal parallax. But such algorithms take time to run, making them inappropriate for real-time applications, like automobile collision avoidance. Now one company claims to have solved the problem with a real-time 3-D camera that uses pixel-level hardware to reveal the distance to any object in any scene, regardless of lighting, occlusion or blending. By integrating 3-D hardware into its SunShield CMOS 3-D time-of-flight imaging sensors, Canesta Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) says it enables machine vision cameras that perceive objects, rather than just sense images, in a scene.

"CHIPS: Rival machine vision approaches take to the road"

Two companies are developing rival automotive machine vision solutions using inexpensive digital cameras. But while International Electronics & Engineering S.A. (IEE) has crafted a sensing system based on a combination of 2-D and 3-D cameras, Mobileye Inc. has opted to use a normal 2-D camera.

Friday, December 01, 2006

"CHIPS: CMOS image sensors aim for true machine vision"

Now that automobiles are beeping to alert you of obstacles while backing up, giving you directions on where to turn, and parallel-parking "hands free," you might have thought that machine vision had already been perfected. Such is not the case. In fact, all of the above applications are using make-shift technologies that substitute for true machine vision. New CMOS imager chips are emerging that directly sense depth—3D pixel-by-pixel—enabling machine vision to realize its goal of perceiving objects, and reacting appropriately. The automotive sensor market already tops $2.5 billion, according to ABI Research (Oyster Bay, N.Y.). Another $750 million is divided among security, industrial automation and videogaming uses of electronic sensors, according to Frost & Sullivan, the Automated Imaging Association and Piper Jaffray, respectively.