At SuperComm 2002, IBM Corp. Wednesday unveiled its efforts to develop microscopic radio frequency tuners that fit on a microchip and do the work of existing components in wireless devices. The chip-mounted components are designed to reduce the cost, power consumption and size of wireless devices, such as cell phones and handhelds, and free device manufacturers to physically accommodate new features in their gear, IBM says.
The resonators and filters IBM is developing are micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) - which are essentially electrical motors that fit on a microchip, says Jennifer Lund, a MEMS researcher at IBM Research.
When they become available - which will be in two or three years, Lund says - the MEMS components will replace space-constraining passive components, such as switches and filters, that are expensive and use a large amount of power, IBM says. Alternatively, IBM's MEMS components don't consume any battery power, Lund says. IBM's idea is that with extra space and battery power at their disposal, device manufacturers could add functions to handle more frequency bands for better wireless coverage, or add new functions to support video-streaming, for example.
"It's entirely possible that when the MEMS devices become available and circuit designers start to learn to use them in their designs, new things - new architectures, new functionality - will become possible," Lund says.
Key to IBM's research is the fabrication process it has devised. IBM developed the MEMS components using readily available production materials and standard processes to prove that MEMS could be a realistic alternative to existing filters and resonators, the company says.
"We strove to make sure that we obeyed the temperature restrictions that exist when manufacturing chips and to make sure that we really only used materials and processes that are standard part of fabricating a chip," Lund says. "We didn't go outside those bounds."