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February 15, 2004

Research on sound chips for cell phones, hearing aids, and video cameras strikes a promising chord with industry; designing microphones and speakers that are smaller and cheaper has landed Akustica, Inc., a deal with both a major cell-phone and a hearing-aid maker, according to Scientific American's February article, "Micro(mechanical) phones: Integrating microphones and speakers on a chip could be a big deal for MEMS." Akustica is a Pittsburgh company that spun off from the work of Professor of ECE and Robotics Kaigham (Ken) Gabriel, co-director of the Carnegie Mellon Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) Laboratory.

While today's cell phone microphones have only one membrane to detect sound, the first-generation MEMS sound chip will have more than five, reported Scientific American. MEMS-based speakers will provide increased sound sensitivity, too. Each membrane's output can be integrated into already established methods of signal-processing electronics. Thus, the chips can be made off-site using existing techniques, the standard industry process for semiconductor manufacturing, based on the complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology.

Photos Courtesy of Akustica.