Spectrometer-on-a-chip slim enough for smartphones

Spectrometer-on-a-chip slim enough for smartphones

Technology News |
About a year after it released its first commercial near infra-red (NIR) spectrometer, roughly the size of a card deck, Egyptian startup Si-Ware Systems has shrunk its MEMS-based instrument to a single chip, slim enough to be integrated into smartphones and wearables.
By Julien Happich


Operating in the NIR spectral range between 1,100nm and 2,500nm, the NeoSpectra Micro comes in a self-contained package measuring 18x18mm and only 4mm thick.

While both instruments rely on the same MEMS monolithic Michelson interferometer, the chip version went through a thorough mechanical and optical optimisation process, explained Scott Smyser, Si-Ware’s Executive Vice President.

The NeoSpectra and the NeoSpectra Micro side by side

“When our first model went to market, we used optical fibers to guide an external light source to the MEMS. We’ve replaced that with a couple of microlenses directly integrated with the photodetector and light source integrated onboard” he told eeNews Europe.

Exploded view of the package.

The readout ASIC and processor chip are stacked just below the MEMS unit, so what designers get is a ready-to-use spectrometer whose results can be directly sent out to the cloud to match and identify any spectral signatures.

Clearly Si-Ware hopes to enter the consumer market, opening spectroscopy to a plethora of health and safety applications where consumers could directly scan their food for the presence of allergens, for freshness, identify pharmaceuticals, analyse the air quality or even their own breath for health monitoring.

The startup will provide the low-cost modules, the analytics and end applications are expected to be provided by device and app makers, as a B-to-C service.

“The chip scale version really opens up new types of usage. I like to compare this breakthrough to inertial sensors ten years ago. Once it became possible to integrate them into smartphones, many new applications came up that had never been thought about”, said Smyser, confident the new sensor could spread into consumer devices like wildfire.

The Executive VP quoted Paris-based market research firm Tematys which estimated the market size for compact spectrometers at $655 million for 2016, expecting it to grow to almost $1B in 2021. According to the research firm, consumer applications will experience the largest growth at a 54% Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) from 2015 to 2021.

With the NeoSpectra Micro, Smyser expects his company to more than double its revenues within the next few years, hoping to ship hundreds of thousands micro spectrometers while the bulkier version had already shipped in tens of thousands within the last twelve months.

Price wise, the chip-sized spectrometer could sell for about USD 100 in volume.

“This is an estimate, but I am sure we could do better than that with good volumes, because our processes are easily scalable in volume, we use a MEMS chip and two CMOS ASICs, all can be manufactured in high volumes if need be”.

The company will showcase the NeoSpectra Micro at Photonics West at the end of the month. It has designed it into an iPhone case and developed a demonstration iPhone app which can scan and measure food and coffee to accurately detect and quantify such elements as gluten and caffeine levels.  The iPhone case was developed by XPNDBLS, and the spectral analysis algorithms were developed by GreenTropism.

Visit Si-Ware Systems at www.si-ware.com


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