STMicroelectronics NV (STM), Europe’s largest semiconductor maker, will unveil a smart-suit prototype with motion sensors that may help people with injuries to recover faster and enhance the performance of athletes.
The company will present the suit at the International Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, in Las Vegas this week. Sewn- in multisensor nodes can capture motion. Such technology is used to record the movements of actors to create animated characters in films and games, and STMicroelectronics is betting it will have wider applications in sports and in helping recuperation from injury and illness.
“This technology will improve the recovery of patients in rehabilitation after injuries and athletes’ performance as it can track, compare and address issues in their movements and posture,” Nunzio Abbate, marketing director for automation, robotics and transportation, said in an interview. “A tennis player will finally be able to compare his forehand with Nadal’s.”
STMicroelectronics rose as much as 1.8 percent to 4.9 euros in Paris trading today and was up 0.8 percent as of 9:40 a.m., giving the company a market value of 4.4 billion euros ($5.6 billion). The stock has dropped 41 percent in the last 12 months.
The Geneva-based company said in October it was “on track” to double revenue from such microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, in 2011 after sales rose almost 130 percent in the first nine months. It didn’t give a total MEMS sales number. Smartphones are also generating demand for MEMS, including motion sensors, allowing consumers to turn, tilt and tap their gadgets for games, search and other functions.
Global MEMS revenue, which includes applications in medical electronics and automotive, is estimated to rise 11.6 percent to $8.74 billion in 2012, according to Jeremie Bouchaud, an analyst at market researcher IHS iSuppli. STMicroelectronics was the market leader in consumer and mobile MEMS in the first half, benefiting from growth in handsets and tablet devices, IHS iSuppli said in September.
Patients with illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease may benefit from treatments based on the repetition of simple movements through the technology, said Abbate.
“MEMS is definitely one of the businesses within STMicro which has had the highest growth in recent years and which has one of the most promising outlooks in coming years,” said Janardan Menon, an analyst at Liberum Capital in London.
The chipmaker, led by Chief Executive Officer Carlo Bozotti, had a 64 percent decline in third-quarter net income as net revenue fell to $2.44 billion from $2.66 billion.
MEMS will continue to rise in consumer devices including smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles, Menon said. “We also expect MEMS to grow in other areas such as medical and industrial,” said Menon, who has a “hold” rating on STMicroelectronics shares.
“The price of suits and other applications will be slashed with our new technology,” Abbate said. He forecast the price of a suit may drop to a tenth of current levels of “several thousand euros,” opening up new markets. STMicroelectronics won’t produce the suits but will sell the technology to make such products, he said.
In the prototype suit, each node combines a microcontroller, nine sensors, including an accelerometer and a gyroscope, and software.
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