TodayApril 16, 2022

MEMS; the future of autonomous vehicles

If you owned a 1979 vehicle, you were one of the first people to drive with a MEMS in their car. Today there are discussions on how many MEMS should be in cars. Bosch says there are about fifty.

What is a MEMS?

Remember the BBC television show Keeping up Appearances? Part of the sitcom’s humor was the illustrious social climber, Hyacinth, telling everyone else how to do everything better, including her husband, Richard. Hyacinth would sit in the passenger’s seat and graciously, in her Received Pronunciation, tell Richard how he could improve his driving, using the phrase, “mind the bicycle, mind the pedestrian”.

MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical System) is a chip that miniaturizes bits of Hyacinth inside an automobile to tell you when you’re too close to the curb or about to hit a person. One of the fastest-growing markets for MEMS is the automotive market. Driverless cars cannot work without technology supplied by auto suppliers, so it’s important to watch the auto suppliers and which technology is growing the fastest.

Chips and sensors are the backbones to autonomous driving; think of a cat with whiskers or a raccoon with night vision. Your car has to be able to tell if there is a flat surface or a mountain even if it is all covered in snow. MEMS and sensors are being produced to mimic those animal-like features as well as the ability to sense the yaw-rate and avert skidding through a corner.

Joachim Kornmayer, Bosch AG’s Automotive Electronics Marketing Communications, talked about how big the first MEM was in a smartphone, “about the size of your thumbnail.” I picked a MEMS out of a canister and put it on my thumbnail. This little sensor that could fall off my thumbnail and vacuumed out of the rug is responsible for the directional change on your smartphone. Without it your smartphone could not go from horizontal to landscape when you switch the direction of your smartphone. Today 25 MEMs could fit on my thumbnail.

Kornmayer said the size of the automotive MEM for Electronic Stability (ESP) in the beginning was, “about as big and heavy as a brick” while today the automotive ESP MEMS was about the same size as my thumbnail. The press data we received said that today, a modern vehicle features more than 50 MEMS sensors!

Imagine each of the fifty MEMs that are in a car today weighing a pound each instead of a wafer the size of my thumbnail. The ability to reduce the weight of a vehicle by fifty pounds is substantial. The rule of thumb is that if you take a pound of weight out of a car you can increase the fuel efficiency by one mile per gallon.

According to IHS research, of the top ten automotive suppliers in 2011 Bosch generated 1/3 of the revenue of total automotive MEMS production, a growth of twenty percent year-over-year. That was four years ago. MEMS are only going to be more important as autonomous vehicles get closer to production.

MEMS are the future, and they are an intricate part of the car today as they save lives through automation, and you wouldn’t need Hyacinth to tell you to mind the pedestrian.

John Batchelor, the host of the John Batchelor radio show, talked to Lou Ann Hammond, CEO, Driving the Nation about Bosch MEMS. Click on the link below to listen.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.