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In this instance, MEMs' the word

June 29, 2009

by Mark Ollig

A new MEMs or Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems technology breakthrough has just been announced.

This breakthrough will permit, for one example, video camera batteries to raise their charging life approximately two and one-half times, consume one-fifth of the energy of a normal disc and hold up to 1Tb (Terabit with a small “b”) worth of data.

1Tb is equal to 125 GB (Gigabytes) and the storage device itself is the size of a fingernail. This value is equal to the storage capacity of 200 DVDs.

The more familiar 1TB (Terabyte with a large “B”) is equal to 1000 GBs.

In checking the online computational analytical engine known as WolframAlpha, I found the approximate storage capacity of the human brain is around 20PB (Petabytes).

1PB is equal to 1000TB.

Can you tell I just love to break these numbers down into analogies which I – a middle, aged (but humble) columnist – can understand?

I know what you’re thinking . . . I must have too much time on my hands.

The person responsible for this latest MEMs technological breakthrough is a Dr. Khatib of the University of Twente--Enschede in the Netherlands, which happens to be an entrepreneurial research facility.

Dr. Khatib’s MEMs discoveries present a device which utilizes minimal energy requirements along with the benefits of high-density data storage on an inexpensive disc.

Dr. Khatib expects this new technology to be available to the general public within the next five years.

MEMs can be described as the combination of mechanical elements, sensors, and devices used for moving or controlling a mechanism or system. MEMs electronics are physically inserted onto a common silicon wafer through a process called “microfabrication” technology.

I discovered the original MEMs, itself, is not something new. In fact, this technology is inside of my iPodtouch.

When we are using certain applications on our iPhones or iPods, we sometimes need to physically “shake” them in order to execute a function. For example, to find a random iHeart app radio station, I can shake my iPod, or in the case of the column I wrote a few weeks ago, if I were to shake my iPod when using my Flight Tracker app, I am able to select a random plane flight and track its real-time in-flight information.

The MEMs sensor, itself, is the mechanical element on a piece of silicon that reacts to this shaking motion. It will respond to the shaking motion and direct an interface chip in this integrated circuit to convert the motion into a signal to process.

The technologies used in MEMs sensors are being used in many consumer applications. Some of these technologies include automobiles and communication devices used by us every day.

MP3 and MP4 players and all forms of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) which incorporate motion-based navigation use MEMs to toggle from page to page.

Game controllers also use MEMs technology. Instead of pushing a button, the motion the game controller device, under the direction of the user, determines the type of input desired during the game.

It is not only the motion detection aspect of MEMs that is cool, but also its ability to make the most of itself as a worthy data storage device, as well.

MEMs are comparable to existing “flash memory” storage devices, but are much less expensive to make. It is also considered a green technology since it is more efficient and less costly to operate.

Dr. Khatib received his PhD June 11 from the TU Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, and Computer Science and the Centre for Telematic and Information Technology.

For more information on MEMs, check out http://www.memsnet.org/mems.

This week’s Web Site of the Week will focus on the University of Twente in the Netherlands and MEMs.