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are relatively slow to dry.
To date, Si-Cal has developed a sensor to detect oxygen
flow, a diabetes sensor, a two-way sensor to stimulate nerves,
and an esophageal sensor tube to alert surgeons.
A number of companies are developing flexible sensors.
Grace noted that INESC Microsystems and Nanotechnologies
of Lisbon, Portugal, has developed a technology to enable
the integration of magnetic field sensors and other devices
fabricated on flexible substrates that are able to bend and
conform to non-planar geometries. The fabrication process is
based on polyamide substrates, due to their flexibility, thermal
stability, chemical resistance, and biocompatibility.
Bioling is developing a flexible epidermal bio sensor system
that can be used to determine a wearer’s dehydration level.
The sensor comprises a printed/flexible electromechanical
sweat sensing device on 7 x 40-mm substrate, with several
other printed/flexible sensors. The system will assist users in
determining the quantity, intensity, and chemical composition
of the fluids the user will need to ingest to overcome
One challenge with flexible sensors will be where the
processing and communications handling circuits will reside,
according to Jason Marsh, Director of Technologies at Next
Flex, an industry association involved in advanced technology
development. “At the device level, we need to think about
power management and communications.” Marsh adds that
requirements for on-board signal processing must be weighed
against the need to keep the sensor thin and flexible.
Another issue with flexible sensors is that the technology
may not easily lend itself to inertia-type sensors, which have
moving parts, because the sensors cannot be bent, noted Ben
Lee, CEO of mCube, which manufacturer MEMS sensors for
motion applications. “The sensor would have to be made very
small – under 1 mm x 1 mm—to be immune to the effects of
bending”, Lee says.
MEMS Market Maturing
While printed and flexible sensors are grabbing more attention,
MEMS sensor manufacturers are not standing still. Perhaps in
a sign that the sector is maturing, recent industry consolidation
indicates suppliers are trying to leverage each others’ expertise
and team up to produce future solutions.
In early November, mCube acquired 3D motion tracking
products and technology company Xsens from ON
Semiconductor. mCube has patented technology to fabricate
a MEMS accelerometer together with a CMOS signal-processing ASIC on a single chip, and volume production
Figure 2. The MC3451 accelerometer from
mCube uses the company’s 3D monolithic single-chip MEMS platform and contains a precision
pedometer algorithm for walking and running.