Posts Tagged ‘ MEMS ’

Qualcomm’s Mirasol display stays small, for now

Qualcomm’s Mirasol display stays small, for now.

Peter Clarke

9/17/2010 5:42 AM EDT

LONDON – Qualcomm is focused on 5.7-inch diagonal and smaller applications for its Mirasol display right now, even though there is no technical reason why the technology could not address larger applications, according to Cheryl Goodman, director of marketing for Qualcomm MEMS Technologies.

On key stopping off point in display scaling has become the 9.7-inch size popularized by Apple with its iPad tablet computer, Goodman acknowledged.

“Qualcomm is super-connected to what’s happening in the mobile device where Mirasol can offset the problem of power consumption,” said Goodman. “First out will be a 5.7-inch e-reader.” Goodman said that rather than scaling to a larger sized display Qualcomm was likely to add smaller sizes tuned to the needs of the smartphone. The 5.7-inch display has a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels at 220 pixels per inch.

The Mirasol technology, which Qualcomm (San Diego, Calif.) acquired in 2004, can save power as it is non-volatile, does not require a back-light and is reflective, making use of ambient light. However, by the same token the display could be seen as less intense and visually appealing than a saturated emmissive display, such as OLED (see Comment: Qualcomm’s MEMS display is smart but is it bright enough?)

Mirasol is based on a MEMS structure combined with thin film optics to create interferometric modulation. The color display is thin and bi-stable so that power is only consumed when changing the status of display. This has the disadvantage that grey-scale requires the application of spatial and temporal dithering. Nonetheless the display is capable of running video at 30-frame per second.

“It is difficult, challenging stuff,” said Goodman, adding “There’s no fundamental reason why the technology could not go larger [than 5.7-inch diagonal].”

Goodman acknowledged that Apple’s launch of the iPad had created a consumer appetite and expectation around the 9.7-inch display size. “We would be remiss if we didn’t investigate that.”

Qualcomm has a dedicated Mirasol 4.5-generation display fab in Taiwan set to deliver in volume in 4Q10 so Mirasol displays are expected to turn up in products in 1H11. A year previously the e-reader design win was expected to deploy in fall 2010.

Goodman declined to comment on reports that Qualcomm is looking to spend as much as $2-billion to build a follow-on display fab.


Comment: Qualcomms MEMS display is smart but is it bright enough?

Comment: Qualcomms MEMS display is smart but is it bright enough?.

Peter Clarke

11/24/2009 11:32 AM EST

LONDON — Last week I was able to look at examples of the Qualcomm MEMS display, known as Mirasol.

I saw small monochrome displays in cell phones and a 5.3-inch full-color unit, posing as an e-reader display. It is a nice looking and technically elegant piece of work. It is a thin, bi-stable, reflective display that therefore theoretically only needs power for changing the image. And it is available in full color with spatial dithering of sub-pixels to provide grey-scale.

A 5.3-inch diagonal full-color Mirasol display

It uses ambient light rather than a backlight, which is its main source of its power saving. Liquid crystal displays after all use a powerful backlight and electro-optic shutters to prevent more or less of the light getting through the panel. The use of ambient light is good outdoors, where LCDs perform badly, but does mean that in low-light conditions the display is hard to read, just like it is hard to read from paper when the lights are out. Qualcomm’s solution is an occasional-use front light.

So what is not to like about this “green” full-color display?

Such a display obviously has great potential in mobile applications where power consumption and battery life are key issues. Depending on the application, a bi-stable non-volatile display can more than halve power consumption in applications such as a smart phone or an e-reader.

However, Qualcomm documentation illustrates a Mirasol scheme that uses spatial dithering to achieve only 3-bits of grey scale or 512 colors. It discusses the addition of temporal dithering to extend the grey-scale to 6-bits per primary color pixel. This gives 64 levels for each of the red, green and blue sub-pixels or a total of 256-k colors. But such a scheme would require the pixels to be continually moving and therefore consuming power.

Qualcomm MEMS Technologies Inc. commissioned a report by Pike Research LLC (Boulder, Colo.) which found that a mobile device using an IMOD (interferometric modulator display), such as Mirasol, would consume 33.7 percent less energy compared with a similar mobile device that uses a conventional LCD display. However, this was based on a 2.4-inch to 2.8-inch diagonal display and it is not clear whether it took into account any temporal dithering of the display. The report goes on to give extensive “green” and sustainable characteristics to the IMOD display.
Sticking point
But for me there is one sticking point that could inhibit take up of the Mirasol display. It is more to do with human behavior and preferences than technology, and the Pike Research report does touch upon it.

“Pike Research estimates that reflective display technology could capture greater than 20 percent market share in mini-display sizes between 2.5 and 10 inches over the next five years with an increasing percentage over time if the operational characteristics of the displays are perceived, first by OEMs and then by potential customers, as equivalent to an LCD,” the report states — but the italics are mine.

My experience is that the Mirasol display is nice to look at but nowhere near as impactful as a backlit liquid crystal display. Qualcomm claims Mirasol displays offer reflectivity on the order of 50 percent and contrast ratios greater than 8:1. It, of course, consumes far less power than a backlit LCD, but the eye does not see that.

So a big challenge for Qualcomm is that many consumer buying decisions are made not in the head as the result of trading off power consumption versus readability metrics but in the heart after seeing a glossy presentation slide across a display. Except for the most ardent of eco-warriors, most consumers expect the battery life of their toys and gadgets to be significantly improved WITHOUT reducing the brightness and attractiveness of the display. And liquid crystal displays have set the bar high.

And the designers and creators of mobile phone and netbook computer specifications know this and, on many occasions, will select the display technology that gives them the best chance of making that heart-led sale. On the other hand, if you are an eco-warrior your heart will seek out the low-power solution. – Startup builds MEMS in standard CMOS processes – Startup builds MEMS in standard CMOS processes.

LONDON — Baolab Microsystems SL (Barcelona, Spain) is a startup company pioneering the creation of microelectromechancial systems (MEMS) within the back-end-of-line structure of CMOS wafers.Whereas most MEMS make use of the mechanical properties of silicon, Baolab has chosen to construct NanoEMS using the interconnect metal of conventional CMOS processes in the hope of creating a low-cost addition to CMOS with superior potential for integration. The company, founded in July 2003, is applying its technology initially to the field of switching for miniature RF relays inside CMOS, enabling smaller mobile phones with improved battery life.

Baolab claims that the process it has developed is easier and quicker with fewer process steps than existing MEMS fabrication techniques that build the MEMS on the surface of the wafer. The in-process method can reduce the cost of MEMS by up to two thirds the company said. Typical MEMS structures are built in a separately optimized process semiconductor process and brought together with CMOS control circuitry as a two-chip solution or as a multichip component.

The Baolab NanoEMS technology uses the existing metal layers in a CMOS wafer to form the MEMS structure using standard mask techniques. The inter-metal dielectric (IMD) is then etched away through openings in the passivation layer using hydrogen fluoride vapour (vHF). The etching uses equipment that is already available for volume production and takes less than an hour, which is insignificant compared to the overall production time. The holes are then sealed and the chip packaged as required. As only standard CMOS processes are used, NanoEMS MEMS can be directly integrated with active circuitry as required.

As part of its development process Baolab has successfully created MEMS devices using standard 0.18-micron process on 200-mm diameter volume CMOS wafers with four or more metal layers, and has achieved minimum feature sizes down to 200 nanometers. This is an order of magnitude smaller than is currently possible with conventional MEMS devices, bringing NanoEMS into the realm of nanostructures, with the additional benefits of smaller sizes, lower power consumption and faster devices. The finished device can be packaged the same way as a conventional CMOS device.

“We have solved the challenge of building MEMS in a completely different way,” said Dave Doyle, Baolab’s CEO. “MEMS are regarded as fairly cost ineffective, with one or two notable exceptions, such as inkjet print heads and pressure sensors. They have to be either built on top of the wafer at a post production stage or into a recess in the wafer. By contrast, our new NanoEMS technology enables MEMS to be built using standard CMOS technologies during the normal flow of the CMOS lines.”

Doyle said Baolab plans to make a range of discrete MEMS including RF switches, digital compasses and accelerometers, along with solutions that combine several functions in one chip. The prototype stage has already proved the NanoEMS technology and evaluation samples will be available later this year. These are aimed at handset designers and manufacturers, and power amplifier and RF front-end module markets.

Building mechanical structures in metal does provide a number of challenges. For example, vHF is quite selective with respect to AlCu compared with the silicon dioxide dielectric. However, despite being a good etchant to free the BEOL it is not easy to control the zone that it etches. Baolab claimed to have solved this by a combination of design rules and a process tweak to change the refractive index of the silicon-nitride passivation layer.

Another challenge is that the metal layers are thin and not optimized for MEMS design. This could be addressed by adjustments to the CMOS process but Baolab wanted to have solutions that are foundry independent so the company has created designs that anticipate and allow for these issues. Similarly, sophisticated design work overcame the problems of metal creep by the aluminium along with limited voltage and current carrying capabilities.

Doyle said that larger Asian foundries tend to insist on allowing no changes to their processes, at least initially, while smaller specialist foundries that are looking for differentiation were prepared to consider allowing for thicker metal layers to support mechanical design.

Doyle declined to name Baolab’s foundry partners. “We are working with two of the largest foundries in the world. We’ve gone out of our way to make sure we are not impacting the CMOS process. We wanted something that was transferrable between foundries,” Doyle said. “We are also working with some smaller foundries, who can offer process flexibility,” he added. “By the end of 2010 we expect to be delivering engineering samples of a switch and control chip pair, and an integrated chip.”

Baolab was founded in 2003 by Josep Montanya i Silvestre, who serves the company as chief technology officer. The company has raised 6.5 million euro (about $10 million) including a 3 million euro Series A round from a Spanish venture capital fund nearly two years ago.

Baolab Claims CMOS MEMS Breakthrough – 2010-03-08 07:07:00 | Semiconductor International

Baolab Claims CMOS MEMS Breakthrough – 2010-03-08 07:07:00 | Semiconductor International.

David Lammers, News Editor — Semiconductor International, 3/8/2010

Baolab Microsystems, S.L. (Barcelona, Spain) said it has developed etching techniques that allow MEMS devices to be built within the metallization layers of standard CMOS wafers, with significant cost savings over today’s MEMS manufacturing techniques.

Dave Doyle, CEO, BaolabDave Doyle, CEO, BaolabCEO David Doyle said over the past decade the company has perfected a way to “repeatably and reliably etch away the layers of inter metal dielectrics.” The approach uses vapor hydrofluoric (HF) etching, Doyle said, adding that “while we can’t detail how we do it, it avoids any uncontrolled reactions by altering the gas flow, ending up with water as a byproduct.”

Baolab founder and CTO Josep Montanya worked on the MEMS approach while gaining his doctorate from UPC-Barcelona Tech, near Barcelona, which has a strong MEMS program.

Doyle said some MEMS companies that claim they use a CMOS process are building the MEMS device on top of a standard CMOS wafer. A MEMS-on-CMOS process adds cost. Baolab claims that it can build MEMS devices within the thin aluminum interconnect layers.

The strategy is to demonstrate several high-volume MEMS products used in RF switches, accelerometers, sensors and other products. The company has developed products on a 180 nm process with four or more metal layers, with minimum feature sizes as small as 200 nm. The process, called NanoEMS MEMS, integrates the MEMS function with the active CMOS control circuitry.

Metallic mesh - baolabThe NanoEMS process is capable of MEMS devices with 200 nm feature sizes. (Source: Baolab)

While many companies have tried to build MEMS devices within a CMOS wafer, those attempts have failed, largely due to reliability problems. “Nobody has been able to do it successfully. Then, when companies build the MEMS on top of the CMOS wafer, they don’t get the cost advantages. They end up using a special process flow,” Doyle said.

Baolab has developed prototypes, and plans to deliver engineering samples to customers by the end of the third quarter. It has worked with smaller foundries to develop its manufacturing flow, and has relationships with two of the largest Asian foundries for high-volume manufacturing. While startups have a difficult time getting qualified by the major handset manufacturers, Baolab’s business plan is to supply the module manufacturers that supply the cellphone manufacturers, for example, he said.

“We believe we will have a significant cost advantage when we get to economies of scale,” he said. “This is one tweak to a standard CMOS flow — one 30-second gas flow change.”

Baolab builds MEMSWhile some companies build MEMS on top of a standard CMOS wafer, Baolab builds MEMS within the metallization layers.

MEMS trend

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