Tuesday, June 02, 2009

"MEMS: barometer chips boost hard drives, GPS"

Sensor markets are standing up to the recession, thanks to the pickup in design-ins for MEMS-based motion, elevation and proximity sensors. MEMS sensors are increasingly being integrated into phones, MP3 players, GPS units, mobile Internet devices (MIDs), portable medical scanners and all sorts of greentech products. The next must-have sensor is the MEMS barometer which enables hard drives to pack more bits, gives GPS units elevation readings, provides health monitoring as well as solves many environmental, safety and security sensing applications. So many OEMs are planning to use two MEMS chips--an accelerometer plus a barometer--that major semiconductor makers will begin selling integrated chips with both by 2010. R.C.J.

First came MEMS accelerometers that sense when hard drives are being dropped and warn them to lock up their heads; now MEMS barometers are being pitched as a means to increase disk storage capacity. And the MEMS sensor count is rising in scores of products beyond hard drives. Freescale had already sold millions of MEMS accelerometers as airbag sensors in high-reliability automotive applications before it entered the consumer electronics market a few years ago with accelerometers for hard drives that can lock up their heads when dropped. Now the company is hawking a companion digital barometric pressure sensor that it says will let hard drive makers optimize head flying heights for maximum information density. The digital pressure sensor debuted today (June 2) at the Computex expo in Taipei, Taiwan.