MEMS inertial sensors have been around for more than 25 years, from the first prototypes developed in universities to initial product offerings. While the goal has always been enabling inertial navigation in mobile devices with high performance accelerometers and gyroscopes, MEMS inertial sensors saw their first commercial success as collision detectors in vehicle airbag systems.
Fast-forward 20 years. Airbags that started on high-end cars are now available on every vehicle. The use of inertial sensors in cars has expanded into all manner of vehicle dynamics. Improvements in the cost, size and power of current sensors, along with expansion of the vendor base, have allowed MEMS sensors to spill over into consumer electronics such as game controllers and smartphones. Their performance, however, remains largely unchanged and MEMS gyroscopes have only recently come to market in volume.
I will examine why MEMS inertial sensors have failed to live up to their initial promise, and to propose a different approach that could jump-start advancements. MEMS fabrication technologies, such as high-aspect-ratio etching, wafer bonding, and packaging, have all seen dramatic improvements from the first university prototypes. Hewlett-Packard has applied 25-plus years of nanofabrication experience creating MEMS inkjet printheads to create a new generation of MEMS inertial sensors. I will highlight performance goals now within reach and the application space the new sensors enable.