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NXTSENS Microsystems -- MEMS Pressure Sensors & Timing Solutions  
Founded: Jan 2015
Status: Private
Source: Semiconductor Times, 12/15
1000 de La Gauchetière O., 43rd floor
Montreal, QC H3B 4W5
Tel: 514.979.7154

NXTSENS Microsystems was founded in 2015, born out of the microsystems group at McGill University to develop custom MEMS-based sensing, timing and frequency reference solutions. Its goal is “to use its semi-custom MEMS technology portfolio to build innovative solutions to help MDs make better decisions.” The company has raised $150K from angels and $250k from a research fund, and will be seeking roughly $5 million in Spring 2016. NXTSENS has 4 employees.

NXTSens has developed IP in pressure sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes and resonators. Its near term focus will be on pressure sensors and resonators. NXTSENS is using the MIDIS semiconductor manufacturing platform developed by Teledyne DALSA Semiconductor to develop its products. Launched in 2013, MIDIS (MEMS Integrated Design for Inertial Sensors) is a microfabrication platform offering high-volume and low-cost manufacturing of accelerometers and gyroscopes. The MIDIS platform enabled NXTSENS to develop low-noise, single and triaxial accelerometers and a very low-noise resonant gyroscope with industry-leading performance and a drastically shortened development time.

By taking advantage of the MIDIS platform, NXTSENS designs MEMS absolute capacitive pressure sensors with a stable vacuum reference combined with advanced coating materials to produce the highest quality tailored pressure sensing solutions. A single crystal silicon (SCSi) membrane means the device is machined out of one solid piece of silicon creating a more robust, repeatable and reliable end product compared to surface micromachined alternatives.

Capacitive transduction has lower package stress sensitivity and temperature dependence compared to traditional piezoresistive transduction, which allows its pressure sensors to be coated by a wider range of materials enabling accurate pressure measure almost anywhere. The capacitive pressure sensing solution operates at 1.8V, consumes 3 µAmps of current during acquisition, and 0.01 µAmps on standby. The pressure sensors are flip chip capable, which allows them to be placed directly on top of their circuitry, thus significantly reducing their mounting area.

NXTSENS is using this pressure sensor technology to target applications in health and environmental monitoring including implants, prosthetics, wearable technologies and water quality monitoring. NXTSENS offers semi-custom absolute capacitive pressure sensors focused mainly on medical and fluid-based applications. NXTSENS is also developing a medical diagnostic tool for trauma related injury monitoring using its pressure sensor.

The company’s MEMS-based timing solutions feature ultra-stable, low jitter and temperature compensated oscillators. Teledyne DALSA Semi is the only pure-play MEMS foundry in the world capable of ultra-clean wafer-level vacuum encapsulation packaging, according to the company. NXTSENS capitalized on this ultra-clean vacuum packaging capability to develop silicon MEMS resonators with extremely high quality factor, reaching 3.24 million at a resonance frequency of 6.89 MHz. The initial prototypes have the highest reported performance among wafer-level vacuum packaged resonators, yielding a frequency-quality factor product of 2.23e13. The company is working on a resonator level temperature compensation approach that will enable further performance improvements.

The smallest oscillators measure just 1 x 1 mm, 10x smaller than legacy quartz-based timing solutions. Because the devices are fabricated using single crystal silicon, they are 100% CMOS compatible allowing further system miniaturization. The use of single crystal silicon also leads to unparalleled resistance to shock and vibration.

Initial tests have demonstrated the ability to survive shocks in excess of 50,000g. Proprietary technology allows the company to fabricate oscillators that cover a range of frequencies from 32.768 kHz to 100 MHz. The devices are ideal for power sensitive applications consuming 100 μA, a 10x reduction over quartz. The resonators are being developed for mid-range timing applications that require increased holdover accuracy and decreased phase noise (GPS, GNSS, GPSDO).

The company has partnerships with Teledyne DALSA Semiconductor, McGill University, C2MI and CMC. Through CMC and being involved with McGill, its development costs have been drastically decreased. By developing its technology on an open semi-custom process, the company has greatly reduced development cost, enabling iterative design process and the ability to tailor solutions to customer requirements quickly and affordably ($30K-100K vs. $+1M).

Charles Allan, Co-founder & CEO (previously a Researcher at McGill University)

George Xereas, Co-founder & CTO (previously a Research Assistant at McGill)

Dr. Vamsy Chodavarapu, Co-founder & VP of Research (Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McGill University)

Dr. Ed Harvey, Co-founder & Chairman (professor of surgery at McGill University)

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