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 user 2009-12-21 at 10:12:04 am Views: 59
  • #23289

    HP senses potential in a new market: Company’s new sensor technology can collect data in variety of areas
    DEC 2009 Today, an abundance of Web-connected computers and cell phones keeps information constantly at our fingertips. But engineers at Hewlett-Packard envision a future of “IT everywhere” in which not just computers but every day objects connect invisibly to provide even more data about the world around us. HP Labs on Thursday announced a new semiconductor-based sensor technology, up to 1,000 times more sensitive than current sensors, to help accomplish its vision.

    The new micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) accelerometers are essentially computer chips with moving parts that can collect data in everything from bridges and roads to tsunami warning systems and heart monitors. Accelerometers sense vibration, shock or changes in speed from everyday objects and translate that into information that can be collected and interpreted in a wide range of applications.”With a series of sensing devices on a bridge structure, you could monitor changes in vibration and the number of cars across the bridge,” said Shaun Wilde, a senior strategist with HP in Palo Alto, Calif.That information could have helped engineers sense structural problems in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge before a large chunk came careening down onto traffic, she said.

    Although HP won’t sell its accelerometers to the broader market, the technology has the potential to open the market to new applications. And that means new opportunities for local chipmakers such as SEH America and Linear Technology down the road.”Sensors work with high-precision devices that process that data,” said John Hamburger, spokesman for Milpitas, Calif.-based Linear Technology, which operates a semiconductor plant in Camas. “We make those high-precision parts.”

    The market for wireless sensors is expected to grow 57.5 percent by 2013, according to an industry analysis by Frost & Sullivan.The technology isn’t new. Consumers with an iPhone already know the accelerometer function, which flips the screen from vertical to horizontal with a tip of the phone. And airbags are deployed using the same MEMS technology.On the high-cost, high-performance end, commercial jets have sophisticated accelerometers but they run about the size of a brick.

    HP’s hybrid
    HP has developed a new hybrid of those chips that does it faster than the consumer chips and cheaper than commercial versions, according to the company.”This represents at an industry level another huge step in the evolution of MEMS devices,” said Grant Pease, a business development manager with HP in Corvallis, Ore.

    Typical accelerometers consist of a weight between springs encased in a single silicon wafer just a few millimeters in size. As the weight moves in relation to the casing, it creates a signal.HP’s device uses three wafers stacked together, allowing the weight to be 1,000 times heavier. And in MEMS, heavier means higher resolution, said Pease.

    Hewlett-Packard is new to the sensor market but it’s been a leader in MEMS sales for the past five years through its thermal inkjet printer division.”We had to make only minor modifications in existing equipment,” to switch from the MEMS production for inkjets to the sensors, said Pease. “The organization and the fab and the intellectual capability is the same group.”