Saturday, July 31, 2010

A cool application and more travel

Apologies for the long break between posts.  It's been an incredibly hectic summer, and I'm about to go on a last big trip before the school year starts (and I get to teach honors intro mechanics to ~ 90 frosh - should be exciting, at least).

Before I go, I wanted to point out a very cool application of micromachining and computing power.  There are many consumer electronic devices now that contain within them a little 3-axis accelerometer made by micromachining techniques, like this one.  The basic gadget consists of a micromachined "test mass" (typically a block of Si) suspended on (silicon) springs.  When the whole device is accelerated, the test mass "lags behind" because of its inertia, just as you get pushed back into the seat of your car when the car accelerates forward.  Through (often) capacitive sensing, the displacement of the test mass can be transduced into a voltage that the chip then outputs.  If the displacement can be detected along three axes, voila, you have a 3-axis accelerometer.  This is the widget that tells the Nintendo Wii how you've been swinging the controller, and it tells iPhones and other similar toys how to orient their displays.  With added sophistication, it's also possible to make micromachined gyroscopes.  They aren't true gyros that spin.  Rather, they're micromachined resonators (like tuning forks of particular shapes), and rotation leads to Coriolis forces that twist the resonator in a way that can be detected.  (For Wii aficionados, that is how the "Wii Motion Plus" works.)  Then you can get angular accelerations, too.

What is the point of this discussion?  Well, some people at Microsoft Research had a great insight.  You can put a sensor like this on a digital camera.  If the acceleration data is logged when a picture is snapped, then it is possible to retroactively unblur photos (at least, pictures that were blurry because the camera was moving).  This is the slickest thing I've seen in a while!     


the_sparrow's_tail said...

wow! that is really really cool. i could have used that a few weeks ago when trying to get some low light pics with out a tripod.

rob said...


why didn't i think of that?

thm said...

I wonder if they could catalog the most likely motion patterns made by people trying to take pictures with a camera, and use them to guess how best to unblur a picture taken without the accelerometers attached. It should be pretty straightforward to algorithmically select which of the candidate unblurred images looks the sharpest.

Mike G said...

wow, I wonder how soon the iphone ap will appear.

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