Spectrometer-on-a-chip slim enough for smartphones

January 24, 2017 // By Julien Happich
About a year after it released its first commercial near infra-red (NIR) spectrometer, roughly the size of a card deck, Egyptian startup Si-Ware Systems has shrunk its MEMS-based instrument to a single chip, slim enough to be integrated into smartphones and wearables.

Operating in the NIR spectral range between 1,100nm and 2,500nm, the NeoSpectra Micro comes in a self-contained package measuring 18x18mm and only 4mm thick.

While both instruments rely on the same MEMS monolithic Michelson interferometer, the chip version went through a thorough mechanical and optical optimisation process, explained Scott Smyser, Si-Ware's Executive Vice President.

The NeoSpectra and the NeoSpectra Micro side by side

"When our first model went to market, we used optical fibers to guide an external light source to the MEMS. We've replaced that with a couple of microlenses directly integrated with the photodetector and light source integrated onboard" he told eeNews Europe.

Exploded view of the package.

The readout ASIC and processor chip are stacked just below the MEMS unit, so what designers get is a ready-to-use spectrometer whose results can be directly sent out to the cloud to match and identify any spectral signatures.

Clearly Si-Ware hopes to enter the consumer market, opening spectroscopy to a plethora of health and safety applications where consumers could directly scan their food for the presence of allergens, for freshness, identify pharmaceuticals, analyse the air quality or even their own breath for health monitoring.

The startup will provide the low-cost modules, the analytics and end applications are expected to be provided by device and app makers, as a B-to-C service.

"The chip scale version really opens up new types of usage. I like to compare this breakthrough to inertial sensors ten years ago. Once it became possible to integrate them into smartphones, many new applications came up that had never been thought about", said Smyser, confident the new sensor could spread into consumer devices like wildfire.