The wearable health tech revolution stands on the shoulders of the giant smartphone market. If it were not for the demand for billions of phones every year, the component market would not have reached the scale necessary to support new research and drive down costs. Cameras, microphones, and motion sensors now are much smaller and cost much less than just 10 years ago.
And now this race to get smaller just took an amazing step. Researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden have created what they assert to be the world’s smallest electromechanical accelerometer in the world. An accelerometer is an essential part of a device’s motion detection systems, as it measures the acceleration — the change in speed — in a given direction. It takes three accelerometers to measure the change in all three axes.
The sensor is so small that it is dwarfed by the wires required to connect it. Dozens of these devices can be put onto the same size chip that currently carries just three accelerometers. This new step in miniaturization is made possible in part through the use of graphene. These one-atom-thick sheets of carbon are strong, lightweight, and are excellent conductors of electricity. The researchers call them NEMS devices: nano-electromechanical systems.
These smaller sensors could result in smaller wearable and mobile devices, possibly with energy efficiencies that could extend battery life. While the data generated by them could be used to count steps or measure heartbeats, clever data processing could make them useful as microphones, gyroscopes, and other important components.