Microphones: A sound technology choice for communication and control

-December 13, 2016

This article is part of EDN and EE Times’ Hot Technologies: Looking ahead to 2017 feature, where our editors examine some of the hot trends and technologies in 2016 that promise to shape technology news in 2017 and beyond.

I feel very strongly about smart technologies progressing to the point where human beings will be able to control the world around them virtually seamlessly. The major way that we communicate each day is by speaking. Let’s ignore the fact that e-mail and texting are ubiquitous for now because I think voice will win out in the end: “Okay Siri and Google.” Sound in general and our voices in particular are really the most natural way that human beings communicate.

That’s why I think that microphone technology will progress steadily in 2017 with applications that we cannot even imagine right now. At the MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress in November 2016, I experienced some really new emerging technologies that will shape the way that we communicate with sound.

I first encountered voice control at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas a few years ago with NXP’s embedded voice recognition turning on lights, a TV, and raising the volume on a stereo player.

Patrick Mannion has commented about the VM 101 piezoelectric MEMS microphone introduced in 2015 and how it has morphed into the latest effort by Vesper, the VM1010. The amazing wake-up and listen microphone technology makes the MEMS microphone the go-to product for even portable designs in which battery power is crucial, due to its 3 microamps of stand-by current while in listening mode. The piezoelectric MEMS microphone is also more rugged than any other device on the market and can work under water! Expect to see more advances in this technology in 2017.


DSP Concepts has introduced an innovative modular piece of software called Audio Weaver, which is a product development system that enables designers to create and deliver an audio-enabled solution. Time to market is critical in today’s competitive world more than ever, so multi-level efficiency tools like this will give circuit designers an edge over competition, enabling them to be the first to market.

Such new applications include cough detection and analysis that can tell a person when to use their inhaler before an emergency event occurs, or something like the NYPD ShotSpotter that will not only be able to detect a gunshot anywhere in New York City, but even pinpoint the exact window it came from in a skyscraper. You can bet on seeing a whole suite of new microphone applications emerge in 2017 with this technology. Mark Zuckerberg’s Jarvis will also emerge in 2017 as cloud-based automated speech recognition (ASR) assumes its position in the voice control market.

It all started in automobiles with “hands-free” cellular phones in cars to prevent distracted driving. Watch for voice technology in automobiles to have innovations as well next year. Volvo already has voice-activated multimedia systems, as well as navigation, not to mention ubiquitous Bluetooth with your smartphone. Nuance also has its Automotive Assistant built on Dragon Drive.

Even ribbon microphones, an older technology from 1924, are making a comeback with advanced phantom-powered FET stages for professional audio processing.

And finally, you can expect to hear more from Bosch with its Akustica line of MEMS microphones in 2017.

Also see:


Also watching:

  • MEMS mirrors: I first encountered moving mirrors in Lucent Technology’s Lambda Router in 2000, then in Texas Instruments’ Digital Light Processor (DLP) moving mirror technology in movie theatre projectors and in Star Wars’ filming. Recently I encountered an advanced design by Microvision with its tiny moving mirror technology that started with applications in projection systems but is now targeting LIDAR in automobiles. You can bet on seeing fast moving technology advances in 2017 with this technology on many fronts. Innoluce is another company to watch in 2017 with their MEMS mirror technology in Time of Flight (ToF) LIDAR, medical imaging, illumination, and projection.

  • MEMS & sensors in air quality: China and India have been in the news lately with deadly air pollution issues. Expect to see fast-rising designs to detect air quality to improve it somehow in 2017. UV and gas sensors from IDT have also been in the news lately at CES. Wearables are now becoming equipped with air quality and chemical sensors and new system designs are being developed to integrate the air quality devices into our everyday life. Even infrared light sensors have entered the applications realm. Bosch sensors are also helping to improve environmental air quality. You can be sure that we will hear more about these sensors in 2017.

Steve Taranovich is a senior technical editor at EDN with 41 years of experience in the electronics industry.


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