MEMS Introduction

Sand-sized machines
25 years of history
Sensing and acting
MEMS today and tomorrow

We're busy people. We tend to be somewhat macro-oriented….concerned with the big picture. And technology reflects this orientation. Our primary concerns are with the end result – what technology does for us on a day-to-day basis. We don't peel back the layers to see what makes technology work.

And when you peel back those layers, it is inside the world of the miniature that some of the most exciting technology is taking place today -- where revolutionary advances allow new types of functionality to be incorporated onto the chipset. These advances have enabled the chip to think, act, and communicate -- in fact to become intelligent microsystems, or “systems-on-a-chip.”

Sand-sized machines
The key enabling technology in this microdomain is MEMS, or MicroElectroMechanical Systems. MEMS are the microscopic structures integrated onto silicon that combine mechanical, optical and fluidic elements with electronics. Typically no bigger than a grain of sand, these MEMS devices are complex machines that enable chips to become intelligent. These devices act as the most direct links between digital electronics and the physical world, allowing the integration of electronics and mechanical systems on a single chipset.

25 years of history
First developed in the 1970s and then commercialized in the 1990s, MEMS make it possible for systems of all kinds to be smaller, faster, more energy-efficient and less expensive. In a typical MEMS configuration, integrated circuits (ICs) provide the “thinking” part of the system, while MEMS complement this intelligence with active perception and control functions.

Sensing and acting
MEMS are usually divided into two categories -- those devices that detect information, called microsensors, and those devices that can respond to information, or act, called actuators. Microsensors gather local information including, for example, thermal, biological, chemical, and optical input. The electronics of the devices can then process the information and may direct actuators to respond and control the environment (e.g. by moving, pumping, filtering) based on an intended, designed instruction.

MEMS today and tomorrow
MEMS devices now are making the world of the future a reality. Scientists have created “smart dust” where millions of miniscule MEMS sensors are spread over a military site and communicate information to humans or computers ready to interpret possible troop movements. “Smart roads” would have MEMS devices embedded in them, conveying information about the roadway, traffic and accidents to automobile-mounted global positioning systems, allowing drivers to avoid problems and alerting highway workers to areas that are potential troublespots.

Today, MEMS are most commonly found as sensors in automobile airbags, but the devices are making extensive inroads into medical, aviation, defense, and wireless and optical communications systems.

What is MEMS



Press Analyst
Research
Resources
Calendar of Events
About This Site

© 2002 All About MEMS, All Rights Reserved

Photo Credits