Sensors Shake Up Gadgets


Entrepreneur James Park’s new gizmo can monitor sleep habits and daily exercise, automatically.

The $99 Fitbit Tracker, coming in January, is a small device that knows both how many calories you burned and how long it took you to fall asleep. How does Fitbit accomplish all of this? With a tiny motion sensor, called an accelerometer.

The little tech add-on, which costs manufacturers all of about $1, has become the latest go-go accessory in Gadget Land, popularized by Nintendo’s Wii gaming console and Apple’s iPhone. Accelerometers are basically chips for devices that measure acceleration and gravity forces. Tech firms can buy the chips from industrial supply vendors.

Accelerometers have been around for a while, in airplanes and autos. They are also used in laptops, where they help prevent failure of the hard drive. They warn the drive, in effect, that the computer is about to be dropped and temporarily put it to sleep to save the data.

“Suddenly, there’s this whole new form of motion to capture and have fun with, a new way people can be expressive,” says Hitchcock, co-founder of Frontier Design Group.

Game designers have been having a field day making use of the accelerometer for the iPhone and iPod Touch to show off new forms of game play. The iPhone doesn’t have any buttons: It’s all about the touch-screen and tilting or shaking the phone for movement.

Photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland.

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