The challenge: powerful, energy-efficient, cost-effective sensors for new connected solutions
Aim of Bosch research: more safety, more productivity, more convenience, and better quality of life
Bosch approach: interplay of energy harvesting, intelligent software integration, and reduced size
Stuttgart and Renningen, Germany – Although they are only as small as a pin head, they are changing everyday life in many fields: tiny Bosch micromechanical sensors. In fitness wristbands, they measure physical activity and help people achieve better health and well-being. In cars, sensors identify dangerous situations and instantly alert the control electronics to keep the vehicle on the road. Because sensors detect the earth’s gravity, smartphones can change their screen orientation to suit users’ needs. Bosch is the world’s leading manufacturer of MEMS sensors (micro-electromechanical systems). Since the start of production in 1995, the company has manufactured more than six billion of them. “The key challenge in the ongoing development of our MEMS sensors is their energy consumption. For example, more intelligence in sensors makes it possible for us to reduce energy consumption,” says Dr. Franz Lärmer, a Bosch sensor expert. It is hard to put a number on the many potential applications of sensors. They are a key technology for the internet of things (IoT).
Three approaches for lower energy consumption Users of mobile devices such as smart watches, augmented-reality glasses, or wearables often wish for longer battery runtimes, smaller designs, more affordable products, and more functions. Until now, the capacity of the batteries in such devices has often not been enough to keep the sensors and their analysis chips constantly supplied with power. Devices have to be recharged more frequently if the sensor-supported functions are constantly in use. Moreover, better battery performance also opens the door to a wider range of intelligent applications. With the aim of reducing sensors’ energy consumption, Lärmer and his team in Renningen have joined forces with Bosch researchers in Palo Alto, California, to pursue three different approaches.
The first approach: energy can be harvested from changes in ambient pressure, vibration, or temperature. As part of the publicly funded joint project 9D-Sense, Bosch is working with partners to research this kind of energy harvesting. Tiny rechargeable batteries can store even the most minuscule amounts of energy gathered in this way to provide sensors with power over a long period of time, maintenance-free. The second approach: sensors can be programmed to gather and transmit their data only when absolutely necessary. If a smartphone is lying still on a table, for example, its sensors do not need to be active. The third approach: at its research center in Palo Alto, Bosch has developed the world’s smallest and most energy-efficient sensor unit. The contents of the BMI160’s tiny housing, which measures 2.5 x 3.0 x 0.8 millimeters, include an accelerometer and a yaw-rate sensor (gyroscope). In a smartphone, the sensor unit measures things such as position. It can also be found in tablet computers and smart watches. In full operational mode, the BMI160’s typical power consumption amounts to a mere 950 microamperes, which is less than half the market standard, as well as a world record. This and other Bosch sensors can be found in three-quarters of all smartphones in the world today.
Every object capable of gathering information “In the future, nearly all everyday objects are likely to be equipped with sensors. This is a revolutionary development that will allow almost every object to gather information about itself and its environment. As a result, the potential applications of these objects will increase tremendously,” Lärmer says. “But other things are also playing an increasingly important role, such as the combination of several sensors and the integration of software intelligence.” One example comes from the world of physical fitness. By measuring atmospheric pressure, one sensor can determine which floor of a building the wearer is located on, while another sensor registers every movement the wearer makes. Together with the data from a tiny heart-rate sensor, which is attached to the user’s skin, the sensor automatically transmits a fitness profile containing information about things such as changes in heart frequency while climbing stairs. If desired, a smartphone app can transmit the profile to a trainer. Applications related to early screening and diagnosis are also conceivable. “Changes in how people move can be an early sign of conditions such as dementia or postural defects. They could be measured in a similar way using MEMS sensors. This would allow us to diagnose and treat illnesses at the earliest possible stage,” Lärmer says. “There is no end in sight to the wide range of possible applications for connected sensors. Our research examines these possibilities.”
The latest technical equipment for sensitive sensors At its new research center in Renningen near Stuttgart, Bosch is working on the big future of these tiny components. It wants to make them even smaller and more energy efficient, thus paving the way for new applications. The best possible conditions are needed to manufacture MEMS, and the same goes for research into new MEMS generations. Even the tiniest grains of dust can cause major problems in the development and production of MEMS structures. At its new research campus, therefore, Bosch has constructed a suite of clean rooms to the latest technical specifications. All air in the building is subject to thorough filtering, resulting in no more than 370 particles per cubic meter. By comparison, air in a typical urban environment contains some 35 million particles per cubic meter.
Tiny structures, extremely sensitive Microscopically fine structures are etched into silicon during MEMS production. On the sensor, the teeth of tiny comb-like silicon structures intermesh. Less than one-quarter the thickness of a human hair, these comb-like structures are pushed up against each other during movement. The distance between the teeth changes, leading to a change in the electric current in the comb-like structures. This current can be measured and calculated as an electric signal that the sensor then transmits. MEMS sensors are extremely sensitive thanks to this technology, Lärmer explains. “In a laboratory, you can use them relatively easily to measure the earth’s rotation.” What is more, the fine silicon structures are already capable of measuring movements of just one femtometer. This is the unimaginably small distance of 0.000000000000001 meters (10-15 meters), and thus the same magnitude as the diameter of atomic nuclei.
Innovation enabling new consumer electronics applications
Extending its product offering towards environmental and smart sensor systems
MEMS sensors are a key technology for the connected world
Ten years after its foundation as a start-up, Bosch Sensortec has achieved the position of the leading global provider of innovative MEMS-based sensors and solutions in the consumer electronics market. Its products enable new applications and innovative solutions across consumer electronics, as well as in areas such as wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Today, three out of four smart phones worldwide use Bosch Sensortec sensors. Bosch Sensortec is part of the Robert Bosch GmbH, the world-leading supplier of MEMS sensors, with 20 years of high volume MEMS production and a position at the forefront of MEMS innovation continuously driving miniaturization, intelligent sensor integration and the development of new measurands. Thanks to the success of Bosch Sensortec, 75 percent of all Bosch MEMS sensors are now used in consumer electronics.
Bosch Sensortec a pioneer for the CE market Bosch Sensortec provides inertial motion sensors such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, geomagnetic sensors and integrated combinations of these. In addition, Bosch Sensortec is the market leader in the environmental consumer sensor space, providing barometric pressure sensors, humidity sensors and – as announced recently – integrated indoor air quality sensors.
Bosch Sensortec also extends its product offering towards intelligent sensor system solutions. In one recent example, Bosch Sensortec has launched two new sensors with an integrated “Fuser Core” for sensor data fusion in Android smart phones and wearable devices. These new sensor hubs significantly reduce power consumption for always-on sensor applications such as fitness tracking, indoor navigation and gesture recognition, helping OEMs to be more competitive and improving the end user experience. Bosch Sensortec’s highly precise inertial sensors also facilitate upcoming advanced applications like virtual and augmented reality.
“Bosch’s unparalleled experience and skill in MEMS processing enable Bosch Sensortec to develop innovative products that differentiate us from our competitors,” said Dr. Stefan Finkbeiner, CEO and General Manager, Bosch Sensortec. “Bosch Sensortec is a pioneer, successfully making the link between Bosch’s automotive heritage and the needs of the fast-moving consumer electronics world.”
Since 1995, Bosch has delivered more than 5 billion MEMS sensors, which have enabled consumers to lead convenient, efficient and secure lives. Currently, more than 4 million MEMS sensors per day are shipped from Bosch’s state-of-the-art wafer fabrication facility in Reutlingen, Germany.
The Bosch group provides sensors for a wide range of automotive and consumer electronics applications, as well as MEMS microphones from its Akustica subsidiary. It holds more than 1,000 patents and patent applications related to MEMS technology.
Statements from industry analysts “Among the ten biggest MEMS companies, Bosch has become a real titan,” said Jean-Christophe Eloy, President & CEO, Yole Développement. “It is today the only MEMS company that is taking full manufacturing, engineering and commercial advantage of its positioning in dual markets, automotive and consumer. The creation of Bosch Sensortec in 2005 has provided the Bosch group with an incredible competitive advantage and has propelled the company to first place, with its total MEMS market size worth $1.2 billion, 50% higher than its closest competitor, and an incredible growth momentum.”
“In 2005, Bosch created Bosch Sensortec to go after the consumer MEMS market. When Bosch became the top manufacturer of MEMS sensors and actuators in 2013, and making history in the process as the first company to reach $1 billion in market revenue, most of the growth came from Bosch Sensortec,” said Jérémie Bouchaud, Senior Director, MEMS & Sensors at IHS. “Bosch reinforced its leadership in the MEMS industry in 2014, where the company alone held 12% of the very fragmented MEMS market. It is clear that Bosch’s bet on consumer applications paid off as this segment accounted for a third of Bosch’s total MEMS revenue in 2014.”
Growth targets surpassed in 2014, despite difficult environment
Sales growth in all business sectors and regions
Sales expected to rise by 3 to 5 percent in 2015
Increasing importance of software competence
15,000 software engineers, 3,000 for the internet of things
Stuttgart – The Bosch Group has made a good start to 2015. In the first quarter, sales grew by roughly 13 percent.1 After adjusting for exchange-rate effects, the increase was 5.4 percent. For the current fiscal year, the global supplier of technology and services expects its sales to grow 3 to 5 percent after adjusting for exchange-rate effects. Because these effects are considerable, Bosch expects its nominal sales growth to be higher than this range. Presenting the annual financial statements in Gerlingen, Germany, Dr. Volkmar Denner, the chairman of the Bosch board of management, said: “Our economic and technological strength in our established fields of business allows us to open up new market segments.” Internet-enabled products and internet-based services are one of the focal points of the company's future sales growth. “We are driving connectivity forward in all our business sectors and playing an active role in shaping it,” Denner added. In 2014, Bosch launched many new products and connectivity solutions. They include web-enabled ovens and software solutions for connected heating systems and buildings, as well as for connected industry and connected mobility.
Business developments in 2014: significant progress In 2014, product innovations again helped Bosch to further improve its market position in many areas. In the past business year, the company increased its sales by a nominal 6.3 percent to 49 billion euros. Adjusted for exchange-rate effects, growth was 7.4 percent. As a result of negative exchange-rate effects to the tune of some 500 million euros, the temporarily strong euro had a considerable impact on the sales figure. This strong development of sales also contributed to an improved result. Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rose to 3 billion euros last year – a year-on-year increase of roughly 10 percent. Bosch thus disclosed an EBIT margin of 6.2 percent in 2014. This is roughly one percentage point better than the value for 2013, adjusted for one-off and extraordinary effects. “Our rigorous work on costs also played a part in this significant improvement in result. In 2014, we were successful despite only moderate global economic growth,” said Dr. Stefan Asenkerschbaumer, the Bosch chief financial officer and deputy chairman of the board of management. Following the complete takeover of BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte GmbH (now BSH Hausgeräte GmbH), the supplier of technology and services has strengthened its position in the area of smart homes. And with the acquisition of ZF Lenksysteme GmbH (now Robert Bosch Automotive Steering GmbH), Bosch has added to its portfolio in the growth area of automated driving.
Mobility solutions for tomorrow's traffic For Bosch, automated driving is a significant area of growth. The company is successively launching new driver assistance systems. For example, 2015 will see the start of series production of remote-controlled parking, the traffic jam assist, and an assistance function for evasive maneuvers and turning against oncoming traffic. In the Mobility Solutions business sector, more than 2,000 engineers are working to make the auto pilot for drivers a reality. When it comes to the mobility of the future, Bosch is not only concerned with automation, but also with connectivity and electrification. As of now, the company has received 30 orders relating to electrical powertrains. Each year, Bosch invests nearly 400 million euros in electromobility, not least in further developing battery technology. “We were instrumental in the success story of the diesel. We want to do the same for the electrical powertrain,” Denner said. One key to the market success of electrical powertrains is their suitability for everyday use. For example an app developed by Bosch gives drivers access to a network covering 80 percent of all web-enabled charge spots in Germany. For users, this means that recharging their electric vehicles is easy.
Today, Bosch sees itself as a supplier of mobility solutions that cover more than just the car. In 2014, systems such as gasoline and diesel direct injection were once again extremely successful. Increasingly, they are being joined by software solutions and mobility services. “Connectivity makes completely new solutions possible for the multimodal traffic of the future. And in established areas as well, it will play a significant role in creating customer benefit and conserving resources,” Denner said. Last year, for example, Bosch debuted connected electronic engine management systems for two wheelers. Riders can use their smartphones to read and evaluate vehicle data.
Growing significance of software competence In the connectivity business, there is a new “3S”: sensors, software, and services. Bosch is the globally leading manufacturer of micromechanical sensors, more commonly known as MEMS sensors. This year, it will manufacture 1.6 billion such “sensory organs,” nearly 25 percent more than in the previous year. Moreover, for some years now, the technology company has been expanding its software competence. Today, one in three of the 45,700 associates working in research and development is a software engineer. Three thousand engineers are working on the internet of things alone. “For Bosch, software expertise is a key competence for the future,” Denner said. “Embedded software is already one of our strong points, and we are successively adding to this with IT software know-how.” Only recently, Bosch acquired the connectivity specialist ProSyst, a supplier of gateway software and middleware. In smart homes, ProSyst software acts as an interpreter for the devices of different manufacturers.
Bosch IoT suite: platform for the internet of things One central software platform for the internet of things is the Bosch IoT suite. It orchestrates communication and data exchange between web-enabled objects such as factory machinery, heating systems, and security cameras. The Bosch IoT suite can also analyze and process the kind of big data generated in areas such as connected manufacturing. Bosch also makes parts of its IoT suite accessible for open-source developers. “Our IoT suite is meant as an invitation to participate. In shaping the connected world, we put our faith in open solutions, since we believe they will drive forward the manufacturer-independent networking of devices and machines,” said Denner, whose responsibilities on the Bosch board of management include research and advance engineering.
A multitude of services on the internet of things According to Denner, the business potential of the internet of things lies above all in the services that can be derived from connectivity. “Bosch is in equal measure a supplier of technology and services, and both are an advantage for us in the connectivity business.” Even today, Bosch offers a wide range of service solutions for many industries and customers. For example, its Security Systems division offers telematics services such as eCall for 500,000 vehicles in 16 languages. By the end of 2015, Bosch will have facilitated the connectivity of some 100,000 vehicles for the fleet management of leasing and insurance companies. At the Hannover trade fair, Bosch presented its remote service manager. In connected manufacturing, it makes the remote maintenance of machinery possible.
Data security and data protection in the connected world With growing connectivity, there is also a growing demand for data security and data protection. “The decisive factor for the widespread acceptance of connected solutions will be data protection, and thus people's trust,” Denner said. In this context, the Bosch CEO called for rapid adoption of the EU General Data Protection Regulation. “Both legally and technologically, there is still much to be done to make Europe truly ready for the internet of things.” In the area of data security, the company is already in good shape. Bosch employs more than 100 associates who specialize in secure data transfer. The company operates a center of competence in which it brings together relevant know-how in areas such as cryptographic methods and the management of certificates.
The business year 2014 by region and business sector
Asia Pacific: growth region number one In Asia Pacific, Bosch grew its sales 17 percent (19 percent after adjusting for exchange-rate effects) in 2014, to 13 billion euros. At just under 27 percent of total sales revenue, the region's share of sales reached a new high. Sales growth was especially strong in China, rising a nominal 27 percent to 6.4 billion euros.
Americas: significant growth in North America, difficult environment in South America Our business in North America developed very well, growing 8.6 percent to 8.5 billion euros. Adjusted for exchange rates, the increase was as much as 9.3 percent. In South America, weak automotive production and weakness of the Brazilian real had a negative effect on sales developments. At 1.5 billion euros, sales were down by an exchange rate-adjusted 4.4 percent on the previous year. In nominal terms, the drop in sales was 13 percent.
Europe: economic situation remains difficult Despite an economic situation that remained difficult, Bosch increased its sales in Europe by 2.1 percent to 26 billion euros. Adjusted for exchange-rate effects, growth was 2.5 percent. The region thus accounted for 53 percent of total sales. In Germany as well, sales were up year on year, at 10.8 billion euros.
Mobility Solutions: growth twice as fast as the market The Mobility Solutions business sector was once again able to accelerate its rate of growth. Sales rose 8.9 percent (9.9 percent after adjusting for exchange-rate effects) to 33.3 billion euros. Bosch thus grew twice as fast as the automotive market. The business sector's EBIT was 2.4 billion euros, and its EBIT margin 7.2 percent. Without one-off and consolidation effects, the year-on-year improvement in operating result is roughly 0.9 percentage points.
Industrial Technology: back on a growth path In 2014, the Industrial Technology business sector's sales amounted to 6.7 billion euros, a nominal 2 percent below the previous-year level (1 percent after adjusting for exchange-rate effects). This slight drop is due to a weak market, as well as to the divestment of the sector's pneumatics business in early 2014. Excluding this consolidation effect, sales increased by 2.5 percent, and 3.6 percent after adjusting for exchange-rate effects. All in all, Industrial Technology improved its EBIT to 67 million euros.
Consumer Goods: market leader in power tools Encouraging growth was posted by the Consumer Goods business sector. Its sales grew 5 percent to 4.2 billion euros, or 7 percent after adjusting for exchange-rate effects. Last year, the business sector generated EBIT of some 550 million euros and an EBIT margin of 13.1 percent. Its EBIT included the pro rata after-tax profit of the BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte GmbH joint venture.
Energy and Building Technology: enhanced competitiveness In 2014, the Energy and Building Technology business sector increased its sales by 1.7 percent (2.6 percent after adjusting for exchange-rate effects), to 4.6 billion euros. Its EBIT came to some 170 million euros. EBIT margin stood at 3.7 percent.
Headcount: 12,000 new hires this year In 2015, Bosch plans to take on some 12,000 graduates worldwide, 1,200 of them in Germany alone. Total Bosch headcount grew by some 9,000 in 2014, to 290,000. Following the integration of the former fifty-fifty joint ventures BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte GmbH and ZF Lenksysteme GmbH, the Bosch Group now employs roughly 360,000 associates (as per April 1, 2015).
1 Sales figure assumes that the consolidated group includes BSH Hausgeräte GmbH and Robert Bosch Automotive Steering GmbH.