Specialty Technology: Linking the Digital and Physical Worlds

Having worked in the semiconductor industry for several decades, I can share with you that specialty technology is just as important as its better-known cousin, logic technology, which has been made famous by Moore's Law. But if you're an electronics consumer, specialty technology actually means more for you. Here's why.



While logic technology stays laser-focused on computing speed and energy efficiency, specialty technology, on the other hand, harnesses the digital world for practical purposes in the physical world that we live in. It acts as the interface between the two worlds, driving the breadth of digital adoption. All you need is to look at your smartphone to see what I mean.

Recent data shows that text, voice and video messaging account for 80% of smart phone use. Behind the scenes, touch screens, microphones, video cameras, radio frequency (RF), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and many other specialty technologies are hard at work to make them possible. They have permeated our lives, whether we realize it or not, bringing us three dimensions of user experience: efficiency and convenience, extending human capabilities, and user delight.

Efficiency and Convenience

Which of your routine tasks would you like to eliminate? You are not alone if you dread driving, especially during rush hours. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) make our daily commute safer and more comfortable. ADAS constantly monitors driving conditions, warning drivers of impending danger, in some cases braking and steering to avoid collision. Specialty technologies, namely sensors and actuators, are integrated with processors to make ADAS possible. In applications that aim to bring efficiency and convenience, ease of use is the name of the game. They must be intuitive and immersive to the point that they are quickly taken for granted, despite their complexity.

Extending Human Capabilities

Besides relieving the mundane, specialty technologies compensate for some of our biological limitations and extend our capabilities beyond our natural reach. CMOS image sensors with enhanced Near Infrared (NIR) sensitivity gives us the ability to see things in the dark. This technology also accurately measures object dimensions and distances, creating greatly enhanced virtual experiences through virtual reality and augmented reality. Gaming, virtual shopping and the aforementioned ADAS systems are just a few such examples.

User Delight

Many digital devices, built in part on specialty technology, process sensor-captured data to entertain or create life-like interactions. We use advanced MEMS-based microphones to converse with smart speakers, an application that Allied Market Research projects to grow more than 20% annually. Other emerging applications also anticipate significant growth. True Wireless Stereo (TWS) is expected to grow at an annual rate of 80% according to Counterpoint Research, while Cision forecasts Ambient Noise Canceling (ANC) to expand at 14% annually. These products are mere precursors of consumer desire for intuitive, compelling and innate human/machine interactions.

We can always count on specialty technology to improve the quality of our lives even when we faced down the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. With everyone sheltering in place, remote conferencing, online shopping and home entertainment have seen dramatic increase. Video camera demand more than tripled.


TSMC's customers are meeting these insatiable demands for technology-intensive products. Almost all of them require tight integration between logic and specialty technology. Many capture enormous amounts of data that require larger-scale data processing, accelerating migration to advanced technologies such as 5nm/7nm. The increased computing power enables further product proliferation to meet the growing demand, forming a virtuous cycle.

Together, this mutualistic duo is helping our customers create differentiated products. To maximize the differentiation, we have responded to the demand for tighter integration by developing technology platforms with unparalleled depth in logic and breadth in specialty. Our logic technology provides coverage from 0.5-micron to 5-nanometer., whereas our specialty technologies include sensors, actuators, analog, RF connectivity, power ICs such as Biploar-CMOS-DMOS, non-volatile memory, and micro-controllers.

Such technology platforms enable a healthy technological ecosystem that supports the growth of the whole semiconductor industry. The result is that today our lives have become more convenient and satisfying than ever; we've greatly extended human capabilities. Fifteen years ago, there were no smart phones. Ten years ago, there were no smart speakers. And five years ago, ADAS was rare and rudimentary. Today, nearly everyone has a smart phone; many homes have smart speakers; and ADAS is in almost every new car. Five years from now, will everyone wear AR/VR goggles? Ten years from now, will autonomous driving be mainstream? And fifteen years from now, will full body wearables made with smart fabric become today's smart phone?

The possibilities are limitless. The joy is endless.