A new silicon-based timer circuit a hundredth the size of traditional quartz crystal circuits has been developed by the Technical Research Centre of Finland, VTT, with VTI technologies Oy, a silicon accelerometer and pressure sensor manufacturer. The circuit opens up new possibilities for slimming down electronic devices and improving their performance, especially in the field of wireless electronics.
VTI is looking for partners with application-specific engineering and marketing expertise to develop the product. Ideal partners would be quartz crystal users who would benefit from the smaller size of silicon resonators. If a viable business case is identified, Finnish national R&D funding is possible.
If business partners are found, VTI is planning to start commercial manufacture of silicon resonators in Finland using existing know-how and manufacturing lines. The company already has the manufacturing capacity and could expand production in a year.
Timer circuits are perhaps the second most important component of electronic devices, after integrated circuits. Annual worldwide sales of quartz resonators are over 4 billion units and worth €2.5 billion.
However, the relatively large size of quartz crystals is limiting further miniaturisation of electronic devices. At less than a millimetre square and potentially up to a tenth the thickness of a quartz crystal, the new silicon resonator provides a solution and could become small enough to embed in a smart card or everyday objects such as clothes or eye glasses.
Initially, silicon resonators will replace quartz resonators in products where size really matters. But in the long run, silicon technology will outpace quartz technology. Combined with integrated circuits it could lead to new developments in intelligent sub-millimetre electronics, extended connectivity ranges for wireless communications and improving data processing.
For example thinner, intelligent smart cards could have a display and biometric identification sensor, or be a combined credit card and MP3 player with wireless earphones.
VTI's sensors are widely applied in automotive, medical and sports applications and the company is now reviewing the business potential of silicon resonators. In the US, three small start-up companies have already launched their first silicon resonators.