Are MEMS speakers ready to kick out the voice coil?

September 21, 2016 // By Peter Clarke
"All those actuators driven by the voice coil motor will become MEMS," according to Benedetto Vigna, general manager of the analog and MEMS business group at STMicroelectronics.

Vigna said the transition might take a "few years" and declined to say whether ST is planning to enter the market directly with such developments as autofocus units or MEMS speakers. However, ST is making sure it has the building block technology and manufacturing capabilities in place and is working with startup companies.

Benedetto Vigna, general manager of analog
and MEMS business group at STMicroelectronics.

Vigna was speaking on the fringes of the European MEMS Summit organized in Stuttgart last week by SEMI. He cited the example of an alternative automatic focusing system being offered to the market by PoLight AS (Horten, Norway), a developer of piezo-MEMS auto-focus lens (see PoLight raises another $19 million ahead of IPO).

ST is PoLight's manufacturing partner. "We are starting to see piezo-MEMS for autofocus and then it will migrate to optical image stabilization," said Vigna.  Vigna said that as smartphones start coming with multiple image sensors and use multi-framing and computational image reconstruction, this will likely play to piezo-MEMS actuators' rapid response time.

Another example is the MEMS loudspeaker being worked on by USound GmbH (Graz, Austria) and AudioPixels Ltd. (Sydney, Australia). Vigna declined to say whether ST is manufacturing for USound. AudioPixels has selected Tower Semiconductor as its manufacturing partner (see Tower selected to make MEMS loudspeaker).

When asked if ST was preparing to enter the market place with MEMS-based speakers as a complement to the company's strong position in microphones, Vigna declined to comment directly.

But in his keynote speech at the European MEMS Summit Vigna had spoken of the importance of piezo-actuators, microfluidic MEMS, and moving mirrors. "The next two or three years are very important and we are trying to find the right applications," he said.

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