TECHNOLOGY DOESN'T COME CHEAP. It is not surprising that the firms that consistently remain at the forefront of technology are the same ones earmarking a significant portion of each year's budget to research and development. And these investments come in many forms, including people, test equipment, and software. But perhaps the most important investment is a willingness to devote time and effort to new developments, which may or may not bring a return on investment.

A technology not mentioned in this month's Special Report (p. 33), and one that has intrigued RF/microwave engineers for several years, is microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). RF MEMS products have been available for a few years, including microwave switches from Dow-Key Microwave (www.dowkey.com), tunable capacitors from MEMSCAP (www.memscap.com), and oscillators from Discera (www.discera.com). But long-term reliability is always a concern in this industry and RF engineers tend to err on the side of caution when using a relatively untried technology.

With the right applications, however, MEMS technology has prospered. Analog Devices (www.analog.com) recently reporting shipping their 200 millionth MEMS device, largely accelerometer ICs for the automotive industry. The firm's recent introduction of the ADXL330 three-axis MEMS accelerometer takes aim at the cellular handset market. The IC is also ideal for power management in digital cameras, laptop computers, and other portable devices.

Medical applications also represent a growing volume of opportunities for electronic research. AMI Semiconductor (www.amis.com), for example, recently announced that implantable-device specialist DexCom (www.dexcom.com) would be using AMIS ASTRIC wireless application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) for an implantable glucose monitoring system. The device, which will operate in the 402-to-405-MHz medical implant communications service (MICS) band, will support extremely low-power wireless monitoring of glucose levels for users suffering from diabetes.

Even smaller companies can invest in technology. One of the smallest, B & H Electronics (Monroe, NY), displayed an impressive array of amplifiers, sources, and systems during a recent visit.

Technology investments may not always directly pay off, but they can often provide a learning experience and benefits that may strengthen a company elsewhere. For 2006, invest wisely in technology and much health and happiness during the holidays.