Texas Instruments MEMS imaging for new markets

February 20, 2012 — ElectroIQ recently spoke with Mariquita Gordon from Texas Instruments DLP’s Embedded division about the company’s micro electro mechanical system (MEMS) digital light processing (DLP) technology. DLP is traditionally associated with projectors, television displays, and pico projectors. In TI’s 4th generation embedded DLP evalution module, the LightCrafter, TI is opening up the applications space to bring DLP into new imaging markets, such as security, dentistry, and more.

DLP chips are MEMS designs with 400,000 micro moving mirrors. Texas Instruments has sold 33+ million units for a range of consumer and high-reliability applications. "We have test DLP mirrors in the TI labs that have been moving for 16 years," Gordon said, pointing to the reliability of the devices. Texas Instruments topped the IHS iSuppli 2010 MEMS supplier rankings, on the strength of its DLP chip sales.

Traditional imaging markets are saturated and price-pressured, and DLP products like projection TVs have felt the squeeze. These new imaging applications represent an area of growth for TI’s MEMS business. The LightCrafter Module came about from customer feedback on previous generations of evaluation kits.

The LightCrafter eval kit is designed to be small, lower-cost, and forgo cosmetic features like a coverplate over the chipset, making it easier to design right into a final product. Some users will prototype with the module, then modify it for final volume production. Others will integrate the module as-made into products, said Gordon. "We want users to come to TI with ideas for MEMS-based products that fall outside of our traditional end-market. There are many applications that we can think of for DLP chipsets, but there’s also a whole range that we haven’t thought of," Gordon explained. The more "plug-and-play" LightCrafter is, the more users will discover applications for it, she added.

Some of the non-traditional imaging applications TI’s seen DLP applied in include 3D measurement of teeth for dental crown designs. Here, MEMS can save significant time, human involvement, and costs in the crown’s modeling. Security applications, such as facial mapping, are also emerging. DLP-based systems can replace lab-based chemical analysis with fast, portable, handheld devices. MEMS technology enables one chipset to sense multiple chemicals. Learn more about bio applications from Lee Mather’s blog, DLP technology finds more application in bio from our sister publication BioOptics World.

LightCrafter is the first evaluation kit that Texas Instruments will sell through its online e-store, a strategy that TI plans to use for all kits going forward. There is also an entire eco-system of developers and technical specialists available to help bring new DLP-based products to market quickly, Gordon said.

More on the LightCrafter evaluation kit: The kit includes a DLP 0.3 WVGA chipset, DMD controller board, and more. Get all the specs at Texas Instruments (TI) debuts DLP evaluation module or visit www.ti.com/dlplightcrafter

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