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MEMS Technology for Your Senses: What Can you Expect?

5senses_yoleHearing, touching, smelling and seeing; what will be the next improvement that MEMS will bring to our senses? Sensors are now small enough, reliable enough, and accurate enough to be included in a pocket-sized device of only 9 cm3 and become the interface with the environment, details Yole Dveloppement (Yole) in its latest report dedicated to the wearable industry (Sensors for Wearable Electronics & Mobile Healthcare, Yole Dveloppement, June 2015).

In this technology and market analysis Yole forecasts a $88 billion market by 2020, comprising 1.2 billion sensor units. In its annual MEMS technology and market analysis, Status of the MEMS Industry (May 2015), Yoles analysts confirm the MEMS markets growth, with a major increase due to consumer applications. Yole forecasts a 12 percent CAGR between 2014 and 2020. MEMS for consumer markets will represent more than 50 percent of total MEMS market value in 2020. The accelerometer is probably the most interesting example. This MEMS device has grown in volume to more than 2 billion units between 2008 and 2015. This growth is mainly due to smartphone applications, which have clearly changed the game with a new high volume/low cost ratio.

The MEMS industrys birth was supported by automotive market needs. Its development has been ensured by new applications coming from the consumer sector. What will be the next step?

Most of the MEMS companies benefited from this growth, across all sectors, with good revenues in 2014, said Dr Eric Mounier, senior technology and market analyst at Yole. But the most important fact is probably the new status of the MEMS industry. It is reaching a maturity level where it is proposing MEMS products with good market positioning in terms of technology and cost. It is also characterized by a new status for the leaders of this industry. At Yole, we call them, the MEMS titans. They include Canon, Knowles, InvenSense, Robert Bosch, and STMicroelectronics, and currently share most of the MEMS market pie. (Source: 2014 Top 30 MEMS player ranking: rise of the first MEMS titan, March 2015)

The MEMS world will not stop here. With the first developments in the 1960s, a move in wearable applications towards the consumer and wellness sectors could become the next step. Yoles team follows this industry closely, sharing information with the key players every day. According to its latest figures, the wearable market will reach $88 billion in 2020, and 1.2 billion sensors. Ninety percent of the market will be focused on fitness band and smart watch applications, details Yole in its MEMS & Sensors for wearables report (Sensors for Wearable Electronics & Mobile Healthcare, Yole Dveloppement, June 2015).

What can we expect from wearable applications? Today they are very different to the original vision. MEMS companies would like to mimic the five human senses, and add new ones, such as night vision within smartphones, as suggested by FLIR Systems 2015 announcements. Thanks to the evolution of MEMS technology, MEMS players can develop a real interface between humans and our environment.

The status of MEMS technology turns wearable applications into a reality, said Dr. Mounier. With Wi-Fi, cellular and Bluetooth, MEMS devices can be connected everywhere. Todays components are also based on a low power consumption principle and allow us to collect all the data needed to monitor our environment. All attributes are therefore in place to ensure the development of wearable solutions. But is a good technology enough to be successful and ensure the development of a new market?

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