BACKGROUND: Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a dime-sized motion sensor that can track lost or stolen laptops and cell phones, and can also be used to help with personal navigation. The sensor is housed in a cube-shaped casing, and can be embedded in any commercial product. Once in place, it automatically senses any small acceleration and emits a uniquely coded signal. Law enforcement officials in Taiwan and the U.S. have expressed interest in the sensor, especially for its potential use in tracking down missing children.
ABOUT LOCATION TRACKING: Location tracking technology has many different components, including geographic information systems, the global positioning system, wireless local area networks and the infrastructure that has evolved around cellular phones. Carnegie Mellon's tiny sensors are an example of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), in which small microchips are implanted into consumer goods, cattle, vehicles and other objects to track their movements. RFID tags are passive and only transmit data if prompted by a reader. The reader transmits radio waves that activate the tag, which then transmits information via a pre-set radio frequency. Currently, location tracking systems are used to streamline corporate supply chains, monitor assets and prevent inventory loss. But one day RFID tags may replace traditional bar codes in stores.
WHAT ARE MEMS: Microelectro-mechanical systems (MEMs) integrate electronic and moving parts onto a microscopic silicon chip, making them ideal for new sensor technology. The term MEMS was coined in the 1980s. A MEMS device is usually only a few micrometers wide; for comparison, a human hair is 50 micrometers wide. Among other everyday applications, MEMS-based sensors are used in cars to detect the sudden motion of a collision and trigger release of the airbag. They are also found in ink-jet printers, blood pressure monitors, and projection display systems.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.