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MEMS (Microelectromechanical Systems) Audio Devices - Dreams and Realities

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MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology is more than a scientific curiosity. Commercial MEMS products are being produced using semiconductor manufacturing techniques. What kind of audio devices can be made using this technology? Surveillance, hearing aids, and directional microphones spring to mind. Less obvious are ultrasonics, in-ear translators and surround-sound wallpaper. The small size of MEMS devices brings up issues of physical limits and appropriate size scales for acoustic applications. MEMS microphone/speaker design involves many of the same issues as conventional microphones/speakers, but the scale difference changes their relative importance. Over the past four years, the MEMS lab at Carnegie Mellon University has developed both microphones and speakers using CMOS-MEMS micromachining, and the technology is being commercialized by Pittsburgh startup Akustica.

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