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Electronics and Semiconductors

What Is Driving MEMS for ADAS Applications?

05 January 2017

The pressure to provide ever-greater safety improvements in assisted driver systems is coming from both governments and regulators as well as from consumers themselves. At the heart of providing both groups the level of safety they demand are sensors, electronics and software. As early as 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will include Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) in the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) Star Rating process. In comparison, safety regulators in Europe plan on grading new cars in 2018. Such programs will rapidly push the technology forward even faster.

This is not simply a wish for a somewhat safer or less stressful ride. Goals for both government and consumers include fewer accidents, reduced insurance premiums and potentially better fuel efficiency. Evolving from mechanical systems to a combination of software and electronics will benefit many component suppliers—especially microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors, which are positioned to experience a use surge within the space.

IHS Markit estimates that the value of this market in 2016 was $2.8 billion, with automotive MEMS use growing at a compound annual growth rate of 6.9% from 2015 to 2022, to reach $3.2 billion in 2022. 

Over the past several years, MEMS sensors gained a foothold with mandated safety systems, such as electronic stability control (ESC) and tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), which were fully implemented in new vehicles during 2015. The MEMS providers that benefitted were adept at gyroscopes, pressure and accelerometer sensors, as well as specifically front airbag and side airbag sensors. In addition, MEMS use in internal combustion engines is also growing steadily based on increased utilization in engine management and exhaust after-treatment. This sector is expected to deliver 1.34 billion units in 2019, up from 1.08 billion units in 2013. 

Inherent Benefits of MEMS

Microelectromechanical systems are miniaturized mechanical and electro-mechanical elements (that is, devices and structures) that are created using microfabrication. Their physical dimension ranges from well below one micron up to several millimeters. They are simple or complex depending on intended applications, and their production methods use the same batch fabrication techniques used for ICs, enabling a low per-device production cost. The real magic of MEMS is apparent when the sensors, actuators and structures are merged onto a common silicon substrate along with ICs. This integration enables smart products that combine microelectronics computational acumen with micro-sensor and micro-actuator perception and control.


One need only visit the annual MEMS and Sensors Executive Congress to grasp MEMS use in ADAS applications. For example, at the 2015 Congress, Jeff Owens, CTO and executive vice president of Delphi Automotive, discussed experiences on a 3,400-mile, coast-to-coast automated drive using a vehicle built with Delphi's ADAS. The drive took nine days through 15 states and used 20 active safety sensors plus GPS, navigation, vision systems and driver-state monitoring. In total, 99% of the trip was fully automated and it yielded three terabytes of valuable data.

Automobiles in the future are likely to contain multiple MEMS devices, creating both opportunities and challenges for the MEMS industry and supply chain.

At the 2016 Congress, Jari Honkanen spoke on MicroVision’s automotive technology using Head-Up Display (HUD) overlays that project critical information on the car windshield. In this way, the driver observes important information but does not need to take his or her eyes off the road. Honkanen also demonstrated how MicroVision’s Laser Beam Scanning (LBS) technology with near-infrared (IR) lasers and IR photodetector is used to develop MEMS-based scanning LIDAR systems.

The use of MEMS enables scanning LIDAR to dynamically change based on the application or the driving situation at hand. It features high horizontal and vertical resolution, and it can perform both slower high resolution and faster low resolution captures than previously possible. Down the road, the MEMS scanned LIDAR idea will be applied to such ADAS applications as blind-spot detection and parking assistance.

The use of MEMS for HUD systems in ADAS helps reduce or remove driver distraction and heighten safety. It can also be used to display important information and alerts in real-time. It can also be used in Automotive LBS HUD systems in embedded and aftermarket products.

When asked about the car of the future and the role of MEMS in it, Jérémie Bouchaud, director and senior principal analyst of MEMS and Sensors for IHS Markit, predicts that it will be “green, safe and fun.” In addition, the car will pilot itself and run on batteries while relying very heavily on sensors, he added.

“The electrified car will similarly rely on sensors as components change to meet the new electronic architectures. More advanced HMIs with Head-Up Displays supporting virtual reality and noise cancellation will also benefit MEMS manufacturers,” Bouchaud explained.

The Future

The need for safety and security in automotive applications will not wane, and the continued appetite for these applications will continue to fuel demand for automotive MEMS sensors. The biggest effect of automotive MEMS sensor use will be on the manufacturers of electronic components and parts and, of course, on end users.

The MEMS sensor market for the automotive segment spans not only ADAS, but also electronic stability control; electronic control units; heating, HVAC systems; safety and security; in-car navigation; OIS camera; microphone in cabin; TPMS; and more. Other applications exist in engine management systems, fuel injection systems, seat occupancy, peripheral pressure sensors and oil pressure sensing.

Fortunately keeping tabs on this industry is somewhat easy given the activities of the MEMS and Sensors Executive Congress. It will be exciting to watch what happens at the 2017 November meeting.

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