Micro-electromechanical systems, more often referred to as MEMS, combine microelectronics and micromachining to “sense, control and actuate on the micro scale.” Their small size and versatile functions have earned the technology the designation of the second “micromanufacturing revolution,” after semiconductor microfabrication. MEMS are currently found in numerous sensors and switches, and the potential “applications within telecommunications (optical and wireless), biomedical and process control areas” are many.
As startups, collaborations, and research teams explore MEMS’s full potential, many diverse technologies are feeling the impact of their discoveries, including RF switches, GPS, and innovations for fighting COVID-19.
1. RF Switches
Menlo Micro’s Ideal Switch was named the 2020 Innovative Product of the Year in the MEMS category at The Best of Sensors awards. This highlights the importance of MEMS in RF switches for multiple industries, including “next-generation 5G mobile networks, industrial IoT markets, battery management, home-automation, electronic vehicles, and medical instrumentation.”
The growing importance of MEMS in RF switches for wireless devices was evident last year as well, when Qorvo acquired Cavendish Kinetics. This acquisition allows Qorvo to continue designing and building industry-leading smartphone antenna tuning technology.
GPS is utilized in a huge range of industries and applications. Incorporating MEMS into devices—ranging from dog collars to marine navigation—helps increase accuracy and functionality. SpotOn Virtual Fence uses MEMS within its collar-based virtual fence to keep dogs in their yards without the underground wires traditionally required by electric fences. Thanks to MEMS, the GPS in SpotOn’s collars is “more accurate than the GPS in your phone,” according to founder Ken Solinsky. Garmin currently partners with MEMS manufacturer SiTime to make timing more reliable in its GPS devices, which are often bumped around.
MEMS are also being introduced to navigation on a much larger scale through the KETmaritime project. The “transnational maritime pilot manufacturing network” released a case study on the impact of MEMS in maritime applications. This includes not only navigation but monitoring of weather, pollutants, structures, and more.
The power of MEMS as sensors is being harnessed in multiple ways in the fight against COVID-19. Infineon’s XENSIV™ PAS CO2 detects carbon dioxide levels to monitor air pollution. The sensor also reliably monitors aerosols in the air to detect airborne viruses, such as COVID-19. MEMS are also used in thermal imaging solutions to detect fevers, one of the early symptoms of COVID-19.