One careless movement and the laptop falls off the desk. A few years ago, this would have been the end of the hard drive and all data would have been irretrievably lost. Today, a sensor measures the movement and recognizes that the laptop is being tilted. The hard drive is switched off instantly and the data secured - thanks to the latest microsystems technology.
Virtually unnoticed, microsystems are taking over more and more sensitive tasks in our everyday lives. They help us to save energy and steer our cars smoothly when driving through road traffic, help doctors to perform complicated operations, and regulate our heating and air-conditioning systems. Innovative microsystems work as tiny invisible helpers in countless areas of our everyday lives.
The very name microsystems technology says exactly what it does: It develops entire systems on a micrometre scale - systems which are in constant communication with their environment. Microsystems must be able to do three things in particular: "feel", "evaluate" and "act". Classic microsystems technology thus distinguishes between sensor technology for signal reception and actuator technology which enables an active influence on the environment.
Common to all microsystems is the fact that different materials, components and technologies are linked together in a very small area. But modern microsystems are more than just the sum of their parts: The intelligent integration of the individual components to form more and more complex systems enables completely novel functions - leading to intelligent products which can make our lives safer, simpler and more comfortable.
Driver assistance systems which can avoid obstacles independently and make automatic emergency stops in critical situations, air-conditioning systems which register when we leave our homes and adjust themselves accordingly: In the not too distant future, we will be finding more and more intelligent systems in our lives. The technological basis for this development: New, intelligent microsystems in our everyday world - also known as "smart systems".
The microsystems of the future will not only feel, evaluate and act; they will also make decisions with foresight and communicate with their surroundings. They will have an autodiagnosis function and will operate largely autonomously - characteristics which come very close to cognitive abilities. Whereas classical microsystems merely function according to a pre-programmed pattern, "smart systems" will show at least rudimentary signs of being able to "think", "understand" and "learn".
The key technology of microsystems technology is thus one of the most important drivers of innovation in general. It is the technology that makes intelligent products possible. Microsystems technology is progress with a system.
The market for microsystems technology has a particularly large share of highly specialized small and medium-sized enterprises offering customer-specific solutions. The BMBF's funding takes this situation into account. Between 2005 and 2010, 75 percent of the industrial share of funding went to small and medium-sized firms.
Current MST funding under the "Information and Communication Technologies (ICT 2020)" funding programme also focuses on collaborative projects which, apart from research institutions and large concerns, also include small and medium-sized companies in particular. Not only does this approach ensure the fast translation of research results into marketable products, it also strengthens innovative SMEs.
The BMBF is promoting microsystems technology in four fields of innovation which are significant for industrial and social policy. A total of 490 application-based research projects are currently being funded, involving an overall volume of funding of 184 million euros. Further information on these projects is available from the project management agency VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH.
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