Page 6

EETE NOV 2015

executive interview InvenSense’s Abdi on expanding MEMS horizons IBy Peter Clarke nvenSense Inc. is a MEMS company that has epitomized a fabless approach to a sector that is still highly reliant on a thorough grasp of the manufacturing and packaging processes. We interviewed CEO Behrooz Abdi to find out about the strategic thinking that is going on at the company. Abdi wants InvenSense (San Jose, Calif) to push forward on all fronts from hardware technology, through software to business models and in application sectors. There are a lot of opportunities for the companies that can move quickly and execute accurately, Abdi said. Although founded in 2003, InvenSense was sufficiently successful with its original inertial MEMS components to go public in 2011. This success came mainly on being designed into consumer and mobile products such as smartphones. However, the IPO also brought about a change of management with the appointment of Behrooz Abdi as CEO replacing the founder and previous CEO Steve Nasiri. Abdi has now been in place as CEO for a few years but surprised some people with a recent presentation that asserted that the MEMS component business is becoming a difficult place to do business. Plans to move up the supply chain and start providing data services might seem like a radical change and run the risk of alienating component customers. At the same time InvenSense is a licensor of the intellectual property around its wafer-to-wafer CMOS-MEMS manufacturing process, making for a multifaceted InvenSense’s CEO Behrooz Abdi business model. We asked Abdi to say a little more about this. Abdi acknowledge the complexity and said that a company has to focus. The various business models express, to an extent, where the company has come from, where it is and where it is going. But they also fit together, he stressed. Right now InvenSense is a vendor of components-plussoftware, Abdi said. It aspires to be a sensor solutions company offering end-to-end solutions but this is likely to be a long journey. “The company started with a process, which it took the company the first few years to perfect. We’ve now turned that process capability into a platform that is scalable.” “The execution strategy was to be fabless which meant transferring the process to foundries,” Abdi said, but added that while InvenSense allows and encourages companies to use its process through TSMC and Globalfoundries, it is not open to all comers. “If you want to use the process, you have to deal with us,” he said. So IP licensing is also part of R&D and business development. “We run multi-project wafer shuttles and a bunch of universities and small companies have made use of this. We make sure it is beneficial to us rather than competitive. But we do want to promote innovation on the platform,” said Abdi. Expand on data services We asked Abdi to expand on his idea that InvenSense would be migrating to become a data services provider. “There’s a lot of value in such things as exact location, activity and context. And inertial sensors used for dead reckoning can help with that. So take the example of cargo: where is it and is it being dropped or banged? GPS is accurate with regard to location but consumes a lot of energy. So inertial navigation can provide location and additional context and we can help with the analysis because it needs to be done locally to minimize bandwidth and power consumption sending raw data up to the cloud.” “It will probably be a business-to-business proposition. It probably wouldn’t make sense to produce a custom solution for one company. But if there are 20 companies all doing the same or a similar thing, that could make sense,” said Abdi. A second example could be a wearables platform, he said. “Again we don’t want to sell wearables or services to end users but if there are 50 diffe- rent companies all trying to decide what analysis they want and when to upload it to the smartphone or to the cloud it could make sense to provide a wearables local data service platform.” However, it has been the case that inertial navigation via step counting has had issues over accuracy. “That’s one of the reasons we have to get in there and do more of the heavy lifting; because it’s not very accurate. It is a challenge but there is a lot of performance to be extracted. It is a game of probabilities and statistics,” said Abdi. What about the hardware? But does this mean InvenSense is abandoning its hardware roots and focusing on middleware and software? No, says Abdi. InvenSense started its business with inertial gyros and followed up with accelerometers on the same piece of silicon, then added pressure sensors and is now sampling microphones. “There is more value to be added in core sensors. We started with gyroscopes for gaming on mobile phones. Next there is the gyro for image stabilization, which requires more precision and lower noise. And that higher precision can feed back into higher precision for location and navigation. Then there is the 7-axis sensor where pressure sensing is integrated with the 6 axes of accelerometer and gyroscope,” said Abdi outlining immediate steps the company can take. What about more fundamental developments such as the use of piezoelectric sensing rather than capacitive or moving into other sensing domains beyond pressure and 6 Electronic Engineering Times Europe November 2015 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE NOV 2015
To see the actual publication please follow the link above