The 0.13 µm sensor chip which enables the surface of the chip itself to sense parameters such as temperature, humidity, certain gases and pathogens was unveiled last month at the RFID Europe 2007 exhibition in Cambridge, U.K.
The chip, manufactured by ChipSensors Ltd, Limerick a Ireland-based fabless semiconductor start-up company, has applications as an all-electronic replacement for the type of electromechanical thermostats and humidistats used in building management and environmental monitoring systems.
Currently most sensors are manufactured on glass or ceramic substrates, using specialist materials and manufacturing processes, and have proved difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate within mainstream foundry CMOS processes, explains ChipSensors. The wafers had to be post-processed and the sensors then required testing and calibrating after packaging, which was time-consuming and expensive. The new technology overcomes these obstacles by enabling sensors, signal conditioning circuits -- including high resolution analog-to-digital converters -- and RF transceiver functions, together with the microcontroller and memory, to be integrated on a single chip, fabricated entirely from standard CMOS.
"By 'piggy-backing' on mainstream semiconductor technology developments in this manner, we are 'putting sensors on Moore's Law', opening the door to true low-cost and high volume scalability for wireless sensors," said Tim Cummins, Chipsensors' CEO. Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on semiconductor ICs doubles every 24 months.
The semiconductor manufacturing industry continuously improves levels of functional integration. The user advantages are both economic and technical: smaller, higher functionality chips reduce unit costs and time-to-market, and generally result in improved performance and lower power consumption, due to shorter interconnects and reduced parasitic capacitance.
ChipSensors is also currently developing an ultra-low-power wireless version of this sensor -- which integrates all the signal conditioning, microcontroller, memory and RF transceiver functions onto the same chip as the sensor itself -- for incorporation into passive and active ID tags.
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