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Smaller, Smarter Sensors Make Life More Comfortable

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The digital products that we've come to rely on in our daily lives, such as mobile phones, personal computers, and digital household appliances have become smaller and smaller as technology improves. At the same time, they're getting better and better at performing tasks for us by quickly anticipating our needs. Naturally, as these products become more compact, the components that are built into them must become smaller as well. For this and other reasons, Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) have been attracting considerable attention from the industry and the public in recent times. MEMS uses semiconductor processing technology to enable super-high-precision processing at micrometer (one-millionth of a meter) or even nanometer (one-billionth of a meter) levels-a degree of precision that is beyond human comprehension. OMRON was among the first in Japan to launch R&D efforts in this exciting field.

MEMS astonishes the world in 1987.

MEMS burst on the scene in 1987 at an international conference in Japan called "Transducers '87." The technology was unveiled in a presentation showing the successful fabrication of gears and motors on a tiny silicon chip in the U.S. using semiconductor processing technology. Amazingly, these gears and motors measured hundreds of micrometers, the size of a pencil tip. This had a huge impact on the audience, who wondered how such tiny devices could move by themselves. The demonstration also presented to OMRON the possibility of using fabrication techniques similar to those used in semiconductor and LSI production to configure truly miniaturized high-performance systems integrating a variety of electronic and mechanical elements. MEMS appeared to be a technology that could open up the micro-world to mechanical components, which until then was considered impossible. Its innovative concept-based technology had a worldwide impact, and inspired Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now known as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) to initiate a 10-year national R&D project in 1991 concerning micromachining technology. OMRON participated in this project, launching numerous large-scale studies. Since then, OMRON has introduced a steady stream of MEMS devices including pressure sensors and acceleration sensors developed in consultation with Dr. Stephen D. Senturia of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who is sometimes referred to as "the father of MEMS technology."

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