Wheelings & Dealings: Startup mCube Lands Big Investment to Make Smaller Accelerometers
Accelerometers are a pretty big part of a great many different gadgets out there, from smartphones to tablets to even many wearable devices. But though accelerometers are a big part of the device picture, these aren't exactly large devices as a whole. Ben Lee and his company mCube, meanwhile, may just have a way to take those accelerometers and make same much smaller, and to that end, has landed a hefty sum to help realize that idea.
A coterie of existing investors--including Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, iD Ventures America, DAG Ventures and others—came together with some new investors to bring in a $37 million Series C round of funding for mCube, and it's funding that mCube will likely need. The company has an idea for a new breed of semiconductor process which in turn can turn around and be used in the construction of steadily smaller accelerometers. With such a process in place, it's said, several functions can be realized including new kinds of games for inexpensive handsets, or even a refinement of Google Glass' reportedly somewhat jerky control scheme.
At last report, mCube has actually shipped over 60 million of these microelectromechanical (MEMS) machines, and poses a novel idea for the market going forward. MEMS, at last report, can essentially take part of the physical world—things like light or movement—and translate these things into input that a computer can understand. Traditionally, MEMS are built on a silicon semiconductor, and then an analog-sensing component is patched into the silicon. But with mCube's new plan, the analog part—the accelerometer, really—is built with a more standard chipmaking process, essentially turning the MEMS part of the whole affair into part of the chip itself. That shrinks down the size of the accelerometer, reduces the power it needs to operate, and lowers the expense, meaning accelerometers can be incorporated into more designs without adding expense.
Indeed, the number of applications of a multi-accelerometer environment is already proving exciting on some fronts. Google (News - Alert) Glass engineers were said to be “excited by the idea”, as multiple accelerometers would make for a more accurate motion sensing experience. Fitness trackers, meanwhile, would see a likewise jolt in terms of just how far can be gone; it would be possible to potentially incorporate a fitness tracker not into a wristband, but into something so small as a removable button for clothing. Here, accelerometers could even potentially work like a gyroscope to improve control in gaming, or serve several other purposes.
The sheer number of potential applications involved in this is impressive by most any standard. When there are that many applications for a technology—it might actually be possible to incorporate several accelerometers into the chassis of a vehicle, potentially serving as a lower-cost aid to the self-driving car market—it's a game changer. How long before mCube MEMS units start finding a way into most any device on the market, reducing prices, driving consumer demand, and overall, spurring further development?
Only time will tell just what applications emerge for this new technology, but in all likelihood, it's a safe bet that it will be making its way to quite a few more devices in the near term future.
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Edited by Maurice Nagle
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