That accelerometer in your new iPhone 3GS must seem pretty cool, switching the phone to landscape view and steering you through racing games and all. But it's nothing compared with what Hewlett-Packard has come up with.
Accelerometers, or inertial sensors, are devices that sense shocks, vibrations and changes in velocity. The ones used in cell phones and other consumer devices are MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems), essentially integrated circuits with moving parts. Though small and relatively inexpensive, they haven't been able to match the more sensitive sensors used in airliners and other commercial applications until now, according to HP.
Now the company has developed an MEMS accelerometer that can do the work of the high-end sensors, which until now have been mechanical devices the size of a brick that cost about US$1,000 per axis, with each axis sensing motion in one direction. It did so partly with technology developed in its printer division, which uses another type of MEMS in print heads. For now, these HP sensors aren't cheap enough to put in consumer electronics, but because they're MEMS, they may get there in a few years. In the meantime, they could revolutionize the use of accelerometers in buildings and geology.
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