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MEMS and the future of material scanners

Published 14.5.2018

In the future, material scanners need expertise from silicon to cloud.

Not so long ago, in late 2006 to be exact, Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) came into many people’s lives without them actually noticing it. The MEMS-based device that made its way into our homes was called Nintendo Wii, and even though it was a huge success, most people still don’t know what kind of technology it was built on. Since then, MEMS technology has been utilized literally everywhere in many everyday consumer applications, for instance in smartphones and digital cameras.

It is fair to expect that we are going to see Nintendo-type success stories in the material sensing world in the future. To predict the future of novel material scanners, we need to understand the opportunities and limitations of several technologies like MEMS manufacturing, connectivity of devices and machine learning and how to combine all of these in future scanner solutions.

Deep knowledge of MEMS, cloud platforms and machine learning has been engraved in Spectral Engines’ development work since the company was founded in 2014. Our vision has been to offer complete solutions “from silicon to cloud” and help our customers to build new business in innovative material sensing applications by bringing powerful NIR spectroscopy technology out from material analysis laboratories to everyone’s fingertips. Our algorithm expert, Pekka Röyttä, wrote about the evolution of machine learning in his blog in March, and I’ll explain to you how MEMS-technology will and actually is already revolutionizing the material sensing business today.

MEMS technology – the key enabler of the sensing revolution

The key question for all of us is this: why has MEMS-technology been seen as the enabler technology of this next sensing revolution? The triumphs of MEMS are ever-expanding, as miniaturized sensors based on MEMS-technology will also enable the use of material sensing technologies everywhere from consumer products to industrial processes and farming operations. Think about automated home appliances equipped with smart material sensors, such as intelligent washing machines and blenders: they will help consumers with daily decisions and with their diet and will start appearing in everyone’s homes. Precision agriculture will become more and more common, as farming tools will be autonomous, helping farmers improve the production of their farms with real-time information. Future smart factories in many industry fields will gain huge benefits when qualitative and quantitative material information can be generated with affordable and reliable material scanners.

MEMS-technology will be a game changer when we think how sensors can be deployed in the aforementioned applications (and many others as well). Until quite recently, the biggest obstacles in producing material sensing applications have been related to scalability and high costs of manufacturing and development. Spectral Engines’ MEMS design and fabrication expertise are a prime example of developing affordable sensors for these kinds of applications. MEMS sensors thanks to their small size, low price point, robustness and the possibility for mass production are ideal solutions for many future sensing applications. We have already seen several concrete applications published at the CES and IFA trade shows showcasing new product concepts that will change the everyday life of consumers.

Get ready for a future of radical innovations

eeNews Analog has listed the most interesting start-ups in their “Analog, MEMS and sensor start-ups to follow” TOP20 list annually. The list of newcomers in 2018 included companies in energy harvesting, gas and vital signs sensors, spectrometry, imaging and low power wireless circuits for the IoT, to name a few. To me, it was fascinating that Spectral Engines was acknowledged in this annual list and we, among many others, are convinced that many of these companies are going to show how MEMS-technology is not only a technology platform but much more in future sensing solutions.

MEMS-technology offers an infinite amount of business opportunities, as its scalability enables the development of many applications into high volume commercial products. Radical innovations for use in everyday life and industrial processes are on their way, and many will eventually be surprised how fast material sensing can be implemented into a huge variety of different applications.

Another interesting event about future opportunities took place only a few weeks ago. In April 2018, the Finnish Committee of the Future published a report on radical technologies that will change the future of societies everywhere. Material scanner technologies were ranked in the top 5 of technologies that have evolved the fastest and will continue doing so, and MEMS has been a crucial part in this development.

As we like to say here at Spectral Engines, the future is already here. Join us in taking over the world, one MEMS material sensing application at a time!

By Uula Kantojärvi, CTO, Spectral Engines

 

Would you like to learn more? Download our whitepapers, where we compare some of the main technologies and solutions around miniaturized NIR spectrometers and give practical guidelines on how to choose the correct technology for applications.

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