Researchers develop ultra-sensitive motion sensors

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Researchers at Cambridge University have developed advanced motion-sensing technology that could potentially lead to new advances in healthcare and home entertainment.

Dr Andrea Cantone, a technology associate with the university’s commercialisation group Cambridge Enterprise, told The Engineer that their new concept of motion sensing is 1,000 times more sensitive than existing systems currently in use today in devices such as smartphone apps and computer game consoles.

‘It’s also more independent from temperature and pressure compared with current MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems), said Cantone. ‘One of the problems with current MEMS is that they suffer from background noise due to atmospheric pressure and a change of environment around them, so one of the key advantages, apart from the sensitivity, is that it is independent from what is happening around it.’

Motion sensors measure changes in acceleration or provide information about angular motion and are becoming more common due to reductions in size, cost and power consumption.

Cantone said that Cambridge Enterprise is looking for partners to help develop products for the consumer market. ‘In a year’s time we hope to have a product to sell to customers. We are currently looking for partners to narrow down certain applications for that market.’

The healthcare market also might benefit from the motion sensors’ increased sensitivity, with Cantone citing its integration into the heart and prosthetics as potential areas to be explored in the future.

‘Healthcare is a bit longer because you have to go through approvals and you need to open certain doors that haven’t been opened before because people didn’t believe that it could be possible,’ Cantone said. ‘So it might take up to 10 years.’

Led by Dr Ashwin Seshia, the researchers at Cambridge’s Nanoscience Centre spent three years developing the technology that tracks the deviations between relative amplitudes of coupled vibratory devices to enhance the sensitivity of microscopic internal sensors.

Keith Moore