Microscopic gyroscopes could make mobile phones personal navigation tools

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Washington, December 28 (ANI): If scientists have their way, then microscopic gyroscopes could soon be a part of mobile phones, doubling them as personal navigation tools.

The gyroscope has many practical applications.

The first was as a gyrocompass for shipping, replacing traditional, less reliable, magnetic compasses, and then as a stabiliser in ships and aircraft and more recently spacecraft.

In recent times, the focus has switched to attempts to miniaturise gyroscopes, or to reproduce the gyroscopic effect in very small structures, so as to provide mass-market applications to consumers.

The aim was partially achieved with the development of tiny MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) gyroscopes.

However, in order for them to have mass commercial potential, it was necessary to come up with a way of securely and cost-effectively packaging them to insulate and protect them from the external environment.

The EU-funded DAVID project was set up to do just this, with six partners from five countries looking at ways to reduce assembly and packaging costs for mass-produced hybrid integrated devices comprising both mechanical and electronic components.

The MEMS are bonded to electronic systems-on-chips or ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits), powerful micro-components which run devices such as mobile phones and gaming consoles.

Large numbers of ASICs are mass produced by being "etched" onto silicon wafers in sophisticated, ultra-clean wafer fabrication plants.

According to project coordinator Norman Marenco, "To create a gyroscope effect for measuring motion in a vehicle or even a pedestrian, you have to provide a moving structure inside a very, very small device and this means combining the mechanical movement with some very sophisticated electronics.

"As the device will be embedded in a vehicle electronics system, or even eventually a mobile phone, it needs to be self-contained and continue operating for many years," he said.

Marenco has predicted that, by 2012, MEMS gyroscopic devices could be in mass production, initially for mobile phone applications.

"You could have tiny devices embedded in mobile handsets that respond to movements made by the users so it is possible to keep exact track of the movements of somebody walking around," he said.

"For human-machine interfaces and personal navigation systems, you need to be able to track motions in three dimensions very precisely, which is what these devices can do," he added. (ANI)

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