editor's blog
Subscribe Now

Micro-Windmill Surprise

It’s one of those good problems.

You’ve been doing some exploratory MEMS work. Your main focus is biomedical – implants for dealing with prostate cancer. Silicon is too brittle, so you do some exploration with a foundry to experiment with different structures and materials. A nickel alloy looks interesting – more forgiving than silicon (at the expense of a lower Young’s modulus). And there’s some extra space on the die.

One a whim, you and a co-researcher half-jokingly discuss putting a windmill on there. During the discussion, she is watching her daughter play with a pinwheel. Inspiration strikes, and overnight she completes a design that goes onto the die. Despite the auspicious name of the MEMS company you’re working with, WinMEMS (one letter away from WindMEMS), you think it probably won’t work.

Only… it does work. Not only does it function as expected, but someone accidentally drops some on the ground – and they still work.

What do you do now?

Most academics would publish. But here’s the deal: you’ve been burned before by companies that have leveraged your work with nothing coming back to you. And universities don’t like this either. So you don’t publish: you patent. And you delay telling the world about it for a couple months until the lawyers relax.

And then you issue a press release.

And then you give up any hope of getting any work done until the phone stops ringing.

This has been life for Dr. Jung-chih Chiao and Dr. Smitha Rao at the University of Texas in Arlington. They’ve been totally sidetracked by the surprising (to him) success of this little side project.

Because no paper has been published, there’s no end of questions about how they achieved their results. There were some pictures, but no details, especially about such critical aspects as, how do they convert the motion into electrical energy? I discussed that with Dr. Chiao, but apparently I didn’t ply him with enough drink to get him to give up the secret. So it remains a secret.

I was actually the 20th person to talk to him. They’ve been bombarded not just with press, but with companies wanting in on the action. They’re not just calling him; they’re calling colleagues as well. So they’re remaining tight-lipped for now.

He’s pretty confident in the design that they’ve done – they’ve aimed for simplicity in order to ensure reliability, but there are still issues to be solved. The two main ones are figuring out how to keep dust from mucking up the works and new ways of countering stiction.

They will be looking for commercialization partners. He sees the university’s role as solving the basic physics, including the two problems just mentioned. There will be other changes before anything goes into full production, but he sees the partner company doing that work. And he’s confident that this thing is manufacturable. Depending on funding, he sees this as being completed on about a one-year horizon.

After his work on this has been completed, he’s looking at possibly putting together a simulation tool. Depending on where you want to place the micro-windmills – cars, bridges, wherever – you may want to optimize the design. A simulation tool would make that possible.

For right now, it’s more basic: the phone needs to quiet down so they can get back to doing actual research.

And we’re still going to have to wait to figure out how this all works.

Leave a Reply

featured blogs
Jul 3, 2020
[From the last episode: We looked at CNNs for vision as well as other neural networks for other applications.] We'€™re going to take a quick detour into math today. For those of you that have done advanced math, this may be a review, or it might even seem to be talking down...
Jul 2, 2020
Using the bitwise operators in general, and employing them to perform masking operations in particular, can be extremely efficacious....
Jul 2, 2020
In June, we continued to upgrade several key pieces of content across the website, including more interactive product explorers on several pages and a homepage refresh. We also made a significant update to our product pages which allows logged-in users to see customer-specifi...

Featured Video

Product Update: New DesignWare® IOs

Sponsored by Synopsys

Join Faisal Goriawalla for an update on Synopsys’ DesignWare GPIO and Specialty IO IP, including LVDS, I2C and I3C. The IO portfolio is silicon-proven across a range of foundries and process nodes, and is ready for your next SoC design.

Click here for more information about DesignWare Embedded Memories, Logic Libraries and Test Videos

Featured Paper

Cryptography: A Closer Look at the Algorithms

Sponsored by Maxim Integrated

Get more details about how cryptographic algorithms are implemented and how an asymmetric key algorithm can be used to exchange a shared private key.

Click here to download the whitepaper

Featured Chalk Talk

Smart Embedded Vision with PolarFire FPGAs

Sponsored by Mouser Electronics and Microchip

In embedded vision applications, doing AI inference at the edge is often required in order to meet performance and latency demands. But, AI inference requires massive computing power, which can exceed our overall power budget. In this episode of Chalk Talk, Amelia Dalton talks to Avery Williams of Microchip about using FPGAs to get the machine vision performance you need, without blowing your power, form factor, and thermal requirements.

More information about Microsemi / Microchip PolarFire FPGA Video & Imaging Kit