The next few years hold out sensor opportunities concomitant to the spectacular growth in global robotics. One of the key drivers for the latter is logistics; from small to large scale, from warehouses measured by the square meter, to airports measured by the square mile. It is within these arenas that the most advanced sensor device development is taking place, and in tandem, the most pressing challenges in regards their respective packaging technologies.
Three megatrends are driving the development of the overall sector, as well as its constituent elements: the robots themselves, cobots, automation, and autonomy.
Figure 1. Global Megatrends Impacting Robotics and Sensors.
Megatrend 1: COVID-19. Coronavirus has now passed from a pandemic to an endemic. In other words, it is a permanent part of our global landscape requiring dynamic management. As a result, social behaviors are changing in a similar way to how climate change is driving the green economy into everyday experience. No country, people or social group are unaffected. Vaccination rollouts, booster jabs, anticipating new variants and infection cycles, travel and social limits, all now set the parameters of day-to-day activities, not least in the worlds of business and commerce. While many are aware of just how many changes have been brought to their own lives, these are only the beginning. The next few years will witness distancing/digitizing/automation/autonomy on much larger scales from healthcare, to the means of production, from mass health screening, to the movement and delivery of goods and services.
Megatrend 2: Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing. While scalable qubit processing is perhaps a decade away, its inevitability and 100-million times greater processing power changes digital fundamentals across the board. Equally, the development of ever more advanced algorithms is pushing inexorably towards true artificial intelligence. Current progress in these areas is already having a big impact, certainly pushing the development of quantum devices, but equally enabling todays sensor technology to do more, creating new avenues of application, and most critically for semiconductor packaging, shifting emphasis from technical excellence to the cost of production. This is because software is driving the technology, and design and manufacturing efficiencies, the physical production of the devices.
Megatrend 3: The changing global landscape. This includes a very broad set of dynamics including greater supply chain security, an end to critical dependences, new geopolitical and commercial alliances, greater corporate rivalry, and a massive investment in green technologies. As relevant to this article, the biggest impact is the supercharged adoption of advanced technologies across a substantial range of industries, prioritization in the development of quantum computing, ever broadening application of AI, shifts in national security strategies towards remote and drone warfare, and inserting digital, remote, autonomy or automation so widely that few areas of life will be untouched.
Taken together, one significant impact of these trends is the increased demand for sensors to advance autonomous processes, resulting in the need for smaller, lighter, more power efficient operation; rising requirements for overall environmental efficiency; fail-safe human interaction; and, finally the evolution in semiconductor packaging and manufacturing capabilities necessary to meet these requirements. As a result of these demands, the microelectronics world can anticipate five years of exceptional challenge for legacy hardware and advanced software engineers, together with the types of supporting devices/secondary technologies simply needed for the sensor ecosystem to continue evolving.
It is important to remember that the undercurrents just described represent various eddies of development. In short, multi-layered iterations between academic research, proof of concept and prototyping, packaging development, and full-scale commercialization. The final market will be stretched between cost effective mass production and high-end capability with fail-safe functioning, with by far the greater weight on the former. Then there is the ever-expanding middle ground; performance at ever falling cost. If that sounds a bit like “having your cake and eating it” that is the commercial reality that keeps us all on our toes.
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Product Marketing Manager
Palomar Technologies, Inc.
Dr. Anthony O'Sullivan
Strategic Market Research Specialist