Suggestions that we are on the verge of a second industrial revolution, based on microsystems technology (MST), are apt to leave many of us unmoved. After all, the prospect of tiny machines, less than a hairsbreadth in dimension, that can go to work in optical systems, conventional and RF electronics, a wide range of sensors, robotics, or even our own bodies, has been dangled before us for decades. Yet there are signs that microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) might, at last, be about to take off. Could it be that these barely perceptible (to the human eye) syntheses of microelectronics with micromechanics are finally poised to make a big commercial impact?Market projections are increasingly bullish. For example, a survey by Europe’s Network of Excellence in Multifunctional Microsystems (NEXUS) suggests a world market of $68 billion by 2005, more than double the level of two years ago (Fig. 1). NEXUS had to revise earlier projections because of runaway successes like that of the optical mouse (Agilent Technologies recently shipped its 50 millionth), an anticipated breakthrough later in the period for microoptoelectromechanical systems (MOEMS), enhanced prospects for RF switching systems, and the possible emergence of a market in domestic appliances. Analyst Venture Development Corporation goes further, concluding that the market will grow ‘exponentially’ for the next ten years. The first device to exceed $1 billion in sales is expected to be MEMS-based photonic switches, within about two years. Current breadwinning applications — desktop ink-jet printers, biomedical pressure sensors/systems, and automotive devices — continue to thrive.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(02)00841-6