Silicon Labs buys Irish sensor startup


Silicon Labs buys Irish sensor startup

Peter Clarke

10/12/2010 7:56 AM EDT

LONDON – Silicon Laboratories Inc. has acquired ChipSensors Ltd., a developer of a dielectric-as-sensor technology designed to detect temperature, humidity and gases. The amount paid was not disclosed.
Fabless chip company ChipSensors (Limerick Ireland), formed in 2006, has been developing a technology that allows the surface of an IC to be used to sense temperature, humidity, certain gases and pathogens. The technology makes use of the low-k dielectric material used in standard sub-micron CMOS process technology as an insulator between metal interconnect. That material is porous, and by selectively admitting or blocking ingress of the agent to be sensed, the dielectric constant of the material can be changed, forming a capacitive sensor.
Normally the surface of an IC is passivated to prevent ambient conditions affecting it. Similarly the pores of low-k material are often surface treated. However ChipSensors indicated that by letting ambient conditions affect a prepared area the resulting electrical characteristics can be detected and measured accurately using on-chip circuitry.
The acquisition complements Silicon Labs’ recent acquisition of MEMS maker Silicon Clocks Inc. (see Silicon Labs buys MEMS firm), according to Mark Downing, vice president of strategy and business development for Silicon Labs.
ChipSensors’ patented technology is suitable for use in thermostats, automotive climate control, printers, security systems, gas leak detection, and wireless sensor networks. And as it is compatible with conventional CMOS, just as Silicon Clocks MEMS are, there is the option of forming wireless sensor network nodes on a single die, including sensors, signal conditioning circuits and RF transceiver functions, together with the microcontroller and memory, integrated and calibrated in a single CMOS IC. “Monolithic is a key part of our strategy,” said Downing although he said that initially Silicon Labs would produce ChipSensors’ stand-alone humidity and temperature sensors.
“Joining forces with Silicon Labs provides us with an exceptional opportunity to both collaborate with a team that has a reputation for the highest caliber mixed-signal engineering and potentially grow the design team in Ireland to take advantage of the strong local technical talent,” said Tim Cummins, CEO and founder of ChipSensors. Cummings is due to take on a product line director role for Silicon Labs.

“ChipSensors is a pre-revenue company.

Their humidity and temperature sensors had been sampling from MPW [multi-project wafer]. They have done enough to demonstrate the technology. Now we can step it on to its own mask-set and achieve qualification for various applications. We can also take the prototype package through to manufacture with a T&A partner.” Downing said he expected to be in volume with parts in the second half of 2011.
Silicon Labs with retain ChipSensors’ Limerick office. “We will retain all the full-time employees and add to the staff to build up the capability,” said Downing.

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