(October 29, 2010) — At the MEMS Technology Summit (10/19-10/20/10, Stanford University), Peter Hartwell, Distinguished Technologist at HP Labs, discussed the company’s sensor strategy — called CeNSE (central nervous system for the earth) — with Debra Vogler, senior technical editor. In this podcast interview, Hartwell describes how HP has been leveraging its inkjet cartridge technology and high-volume manufacturing to tackle the need for distributed wireless sensing networks, in particular, sensing in harsh environments. By harnessing the compute power in “the cloud,” the large amounts of data generated from wireless sensors provides the information required to monitor infrastructure.

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In his presentation at the conference, Hartwell also did an interesting back-of-the-envelope calculation that illustrated just how challenging it is for MEMS component manufacturers to make a profit, given that the technology has become commoditized. Essentially, the revenues generated at the system integrator stage and up to the service provider are orders of magnitude larger than those seen by a MEMS device manufacturer. In his example, a MEMS device manufacturer might realize $30 million in revenues, while the systems integrator would see $2.2 billion in revenue; but the service provider might see $25 billion in revenue. Going forward, funding models will have to take this commoditization factor into account.

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