Cambridge: The next generation of motion sensors

Researchers at Cambridge University have developed a new motion sensing technology they say is one thousand times more sensitive than existing systems, such as those currently in use in applications ranging from aerospace to home entertainment.

The new technology, developed by a group led by Ashwin Seshia at the university’s Nanoscience Centre, relies on tracking the deviations between the relative amplitudes of coupled vibratory devices, thus enhancing the sensitivity of microscopic inertial sensors.

Inertial sensors, in wide use for motion sensing applications, can be found in devices from smartphones to fighter jets. The sensors measure changes in acceleration or provide information about angular motion.

While the inertial sensors used in many applications are large and expensive, miniaturised versions of the devices based on micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) technology are becoming more commonplace, a move that is prompted by the substantial reductions in cost, size and power consumption they provide.

However, the sensitivities of these devices are lower than those required for applications where high performance is essential, such as navigation, healthcare and gaming.

The method developed by Seshia and his research group addresses one of the main issues associated with good sensor design - maximising sensitivity to the quantity which is being measured, while minimising sensitivity to environmental variables such as temperature and pressure.

“The technology developed by Ashwin and his team has enormous potential to completely change what we can do with inertial sensing across a huge variety of applications,” said Andrea Cantone of Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation group. “MEMS technology has enabled motion sensing to be incorporated into many devices already, but these improvements mean that it could be used in ways that haven’t even been considered yet.”

A working prototype has been constructed. Cambridge Enterprise says that with a suitable partner, the sensors could reach the market within six months.

For more information, visit:

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up