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Sensors R&D pioneers highlight immense market potential and consumer benefits of sensor technology in content-rich APAC Innovation Summit

01 Sep 2016

(Hong Kong, 1 September 2016) - In the recent APAC Innovation Summit - Sensors (“AIS”) 2016 organised by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (“HKSTP”), authoritative academics and professionals in the vanguard of sensors R&D shared their vision of a future in which affordable, small and intelligent sensors would revolutionise healthcare, environmental safety and lifestyle convenience. 

The summit held on August 25 focused on the future of sensors development, driven by Micro‐electromechanical Systems (MEMS) Technology. Opening the summit, Dr HL Yiu, Head of Electronics, Material and Precision Engineering of HKSTP, highlighted the enormous potential of the market. He cited industry estimates that the expanding networks of “Internet of Things” (“IoT”) will be powered by a trillion sensors in 2020, and the value of the global sensor market is expected to be worth more than USD 150 billion by then. “A summary from Stanford University also pointed out that by 2020, around 130 sensors will be used per person and more than 5,000 sensors will be around a person by 2033,” Dr Yiu said.


Sensor technology augurs lower-cost future for healthcare of longer-living societies

Echoing the growing adoption of sensors, keynote speaker Prof William C. Tang of the University of California, Irvine, underscored the significant consumer demand, cost-saving potential and efficacy of sensor applications in healthcare. He told the AIS audience that higher life-expectancy of up to 80-87 in the developed world and the resulting higher per-capita health expenditure call for “a better approach to healthcare”.

He said that MEMS sensor development is driven by the requirement for low-cost and high-volume needs for consumer products like mobile phone and cellphone devices, as well as medium-to-low-cost and medium-to-high-volume application for healthcare for the next 20-30 years. There is tremendous market opportunity, notably in the areas of drug delivery, monitoring, bio-analysis, prosthesis and minimally-invasive surgery, for improvement in the tools as well as the approach and process for the therapeutic regiment through MEMS sensor development.

“Of the megatrends listed by EY Global in 2015, two of them can be contributed by the MEMS sensor industry. One is the digital future, particularly the IoT that demands a tremendous amount of sensor availability in the sensor nodes, and the other is health reimagined, being addressed partially by the availability of point-of-care diagnostic using MEMS sensors both in wearable and micro-implant devices,” Prof Tang concluded.


Low-cost skin-like sensor offers affordable alternative for healthcare monitoring

Endeavouring to make multi-sensory sensors affordable to the world population for healthcare monitoring, Dr Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, Associate Professor Electrical Engineering of King Abdullah University of Science & Technology, Saudi Arabia, shared the latest development of a low-cost skin-like paper medium that is able to sense temperature, humidity, pH, and pressure by leveraging the unique properties of ubiquitous household items such as post-it notes, aluminum foil, microfiber wipes, sponges, double-sided adhesive tapes and HB pencils.

“Paper skin is most probably the first affordable multi-sensory integrated platform that can do simultaneous sensing of different parameters and is inexpensive. It has wide-ranging application, from medical to 3D touchscreen and human machine interface,” said Dr Hussain. He further envisaged that paper fitbit will be developed in the future. “Paper fitbit can do continuous and simultaneous sensing of vital signs at a singular point of detection. We expect that everyone in the world has some way to access this kind of technological revolution.”


MEMS technology enables smaller, cheaper sensors to fuel proliferation of new devices

Another keynote speaker, Claire Troadec of Yole Développement, said in the summit that MEMS technology is a boon for sensor technology as it allows miniaturisation and cost reduction. “Because MEMS is a semi-conductor technology, you can achieve miniaturisation of existing products and you can have more dies in a given wafer and you can lower the cost of your sensors. This means you can have proliferation of new devices like smart phones or vehicles. That is something that everyone is looking forward to,” she said.

The level of demand and application for sensors associated with IoT in smart city is mostly for building automation and consumer and home automation currently, but she projects that the application will widen in the industrial domain and healthcare and life science by 2018, and further extending to transportation, security and public safety and the environment areas by 2020. She emphasised that increasing global concern with air quality is underlining the growing importance of gas sensors and anticipated the size of the market for gas sensors will grow from USD 560 million in 2014 to USD 920 million in 2021.


Smart sensor applications in smart city allows for safety-enhancing technological developments

Dr. Wen Jung Li from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering of the City University of Hong Kong identified a number of safety-enhancing technological developments in which MEMS sensors play a major role – from Google Car using autonomous driving that helps avoid dangerous situations (since 90% of accidents are caused by human error), to mobile vehicle airbag deployment enhanced to within 0.75 second of response time from sensing impact, and advanced sensing system for earthquake detection.

“MEMS sensor is very important to the future development of technology,” he told the AIS audience. “Besides the big market for mobile phones, there are other applications in animals and humans that have not been explored yet. Collectively I think they will make the entire society move forward and live better in the near future.”

The AIS Sensors is one of the initiatives through which HKSTP drives more collaboration between its partner companies and overseas sensor experts and equips Science Park community with new technology knowledge so as to upgrade their capabilities in the R&D of sensors, at the same time draws investors’ attention to this technology and attracts talent to this field.


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