Distributed MEMS: new challenges for computation

A.A. Berlin, K.J. Gabriel
1997 IEEE Computational Science & Engineering  
M icroelectromechanical systems, often abbreviated as MEMS, are an emerging set of technologies that make it possible to miniaturize and mass-produce large numbers of integrated sensors, actuators, and computers. By merging sensing and actuation with computation and communication, MEMS devices can be distributed throughout the environment, coated on surfaces, or embedded within everyday objects to create distributed systems for sensing, reasoning about, and responding to events in the physical
more » ... orld on a scale never before possible. Distributed MEMS applications go well beyond the scaling limits of today's computational paradigms, posing serious challenges and new opportunities for information technology. At first glance, from a computational perspective, coupling computation to the physical world might not sound like something new or terribly challenging. After all, for the past 20 years the microelectronics revolution has led to an increased reliance on computation throughout our daily lives. Computation is embedded in watches and telephones, in automobiles and aircraft, and even in toasters. A rich variety of computational tools has been developed for these embedded systems, allowing them to be limited by issues of size and cost rather than by fundamental limits of information technology. MEMS changes the rules. Today's embedded systems typically consist of a handful of discrete sensors and ac-tuators that are physically wired to a central control computer. In contrast, as illustrated by the example in Figure 1 , MEMS-based systems can consist of thousands of integrated sensors, actuators, and computers acting over a large area. How can we structure computation and communication to enable large arrays of spatially distributed devices to act in coordination on global goals, while con-
doi:10.1109/99.590851 fatcat:675jkwpi65geznpmdycktqhcwu