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Christmas goes digital: why mini Bosch components will feature in so many gifts this Christmas

Ten billion Bosch components in cell phones, cars, and game consoles

  • Global market leader: Bosch has manufactured more than ten billion MEMS sensors since 1995.
  • MEMS sensors enable cell phones to take sharp pictures and keep joggers posted on calories burned.
  • They are the key technology for the internet of things.

Reutlingen, Germany – This year once again, the gifts under the Christmas tree will be emitting beeps, buzzes, and radio waves: according to Bitkom, some 70 percent of Germans will be giving digital gifts. This could be a smart watch, a game console, or of course a cell phone. This also means that Bosch will figure prominently under people’s Christmas trees, even though few may realize it. There’s at least one Bosch MEMS sensor in more than half the smartphones on the planet, and five of them on average in every new car. And there are millions more in drones, game consoles, fitness wristbands, and vacuum-cleaning robots. Bosch has produced more than ten billion of these miniature sensors in its wafer fab at Reutlingen, 40 kilometers south of Stuttgart, since 1995. “MEMS sensors are the building blocks of the connected world. They endow everyday objects with sensory perception and connect them with the internet,” says Jens Fabrowsky, member of the executive management of the Automotive Electronics division at Robert Bosch GmbH. With the number of connected devices rising fast – Gartner expects the global count to come to 20 billion by 2020 – MEMS sensors are sure to become chip-sized superheroes that we simply cannot do without.

MEMS sensors measure the world and teach electronic systems how to see, feel, and smell. They turn a simple cell phone into a smartphone that takes sharp pictures and navigates on the street and over multiple stories in buildings.

Jens Fabrowsky, member of the executive management of the Automotive Electronics division at Robert Bosch GmbH

Ten billion sensory organs

Rectangular or square and smaller than a pinhead at between one and four millimeters tall, these components are not easily seen. But however unremarkable MEMS sensors may seem at first glance, these mighty mites are the stars and polymaths of the connected world. “MEMS sensors measure the world and teach electronic systems how to see, feel, and smell. They turn a simple cell phone into a smartphone that takes sharp pictures and navigates on the street and over multiple stories in buildings,” Fabrowsky says. With the benefit of MEMS sensors, drones glide smoothly and can be controlled precisely even in winds. Installed in fitness trackers and smart watches, they count steps, stairs, and calories. These diminutive sensors’ fine-tuned receptors measure temperature, air pressure, humidity, and even air quality. They allow indoor air-conditioning and ventilation systems to be controlled more efficiently and, when office meetings drag on, they can trigger smartphone reminders that it is time for some fresh air. The first MEMS sensors developed nearly 25 years ago were not meant for smart-home technology or consumer electronics; they were destined for cars. These perceptive miniatures furnish data to the control units about when the car brakes or accelerates, as well as about the direction the car is traveling. The ESP electronic stability program uses this information to keep cars, trucks, and even motorcycles safely on track and in their lanes. Moreover, the GPS never loses sight of its destination, even if its signal is temporarily interrupted.

What exactly are MEMS sensors?

Microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS for short, are a combination of electronic and mechanical hardware. Every MEMS sensor consists of tiny silicon structures that are machined into a silicon wafer with a special type of etching process. For example, under a microscope, an acceleration sensor’s structures look like gossamer combs arranged in opposing and interlocking patterns. Some of these fine comb-like structures measure a mere four micrometers across – that is just a tenth the size of an ant’s leg. The force of a car accelerating or braking squeezes these combs. This changes the electrical voltage between the individual teeth, transforming a mechanical force into an electrical signal. A control unit interprets this signal and processes it further as a digital value. Bosch developed the manufacturing process behind MEMS technology nearly 25 years ago. It still forms the basis of today’s production runs, which take up to 14 weeks and entail several hundred steps. These tiny sensors are manufactured under exacting cleanroom conditions, as even the smallest airborne particles would disrupt their production. One cubic foot of air – that is about 30 liters – may contain no more than one particle weighing half a microgram. To put this into perspective, that equates to a cherry pit in Lake Constance – or 360 million bathtubs.

About Bosch

The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 375,000 associates worldwide (as of December 31, 2015). The company generated sales of 70.6 billion euros in 2015. Its operations are divided into four business sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology. The Bosch Group comprises Robert Bosch GmbH and its roughly 440 subsidiaries and regional companies in some 60 countries. Including sales and service partners, Bosch’s global manufacturing and sales network covers some 150 countries. The basis for the company’s future growth is its innovative strength. Bosch employs 55,800 associates in research and development at 118 locations across the globe. The Bosch Group’s strategic objective is to deliver innovations for a connected life. Bosch improves quality of life worldwide with products and services that are innovative and spark enthusiasm. In short, Bosch creates technology that is “Invented for life.”

The company was set up in Stuttgart in 1886 by Robert Bosch (1861-1942) as “Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering.” The special ownership structure of Robert Bosch GmbH guarantees the entrepreneurial freedom of the Bosch Group, making it possible for the company to plan over the long term and to undertake significant up-front investments in the safeguarding of its future. Ninety-two percent of the share capital of Robert Bosch GmbH is held by Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH, a charitable foundation. The majority of voting rights are held by Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG, an industrial trust. The entrepreneurial ownership functions are carried out by the trust. The remaining shares are held by the Bosch family and by Robert Bosch GmbH.

Additional information is available online at www.bosch.com, www.bosch-press.com, www.twitter.com/BoschPresse

Mobility Solutions is the largest Bosch Group business sector. In 2015, its sales came to 41.7 billion euros, or 59 percent of total group sales. This makes the Bosch Group one of the leading automotive suppliers. The Mobility Solutions business sector combines the group's expertise in three mobility domains – automation, electrification, and connectivity – and offers its customers integrated mobility solutions. Its main areas of activity are injection technology and powertrain peripherals for internal-combustion engines, diverse solutions for powertrain electrification, vehicle safety systems, driver-assistance and automated functions, technology for user-friendly infotainment as well as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, repair-shop concepts, and technology and services for the automotive aftermarket. Bosch is synonymous with important automotive innovations, such as electronic engine management, the ESP anti-skid system, and common-rail diesel technology.

Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions GmbH was founded in 2013 and is a fully owned subsidiary of Robert Bosch GmbH. The company was set up to design, develop and market innovative connected devices and tailor-made solutions for the Internet of Things. Our competency in electronics, sensor technology and software enable new business models for global markets. Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions is headquartered in Reutlingen, Germany. In 2015 Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions opened offices in Chicago, USA and Shanghai, China, in 2016 a sales office in Singapore was opened.

For more information, go to www.bosch-connectivity.com

Having established a regional presence in 1906 in North America, the Bosch Group employs nearly 34,500 associates in more than 100 locations, as of December 31, 2017. In 2017 Bosch generated consolidated sales of $13.7 billion in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. For more information, visit twitter.com/boschusa, twitter.com/boschmexico and http://www.bosch.ca.

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