You may think of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) as expensive and complex, relegated to high-end applications like automotive electronic stability and air-bag controls or aircraft sensors. But the Nintendo Wii has put MEMS devices in the hands of tens of millions of consumers.
To observers, it may seem like the Wii is a one-off application of MEMS in consumer products—a very specific-use case that has no broader market implication. But that's dead wrong. MEMS (and sensors in general) are opening entirely new ways for consumers to interface with devices and making content of all types more accessible to end users.
Gaming, of course, is the premier MEMS/sensor application in consumer goods today. Nintendo's Wii is a generation or two behind competitors in just about all aspects—it can't support HDTV outputs, its graphics are positively stone-aged compared with those of Sony's PlayStation 3 or Microsoft's Xbox 360, and it doesn't support true surround sound.
But its input system, based on accelerometers and IR sensors, made gaming accessible to generations that haven't trained their thumbs to maneuver game pads at high speed. Sony's PS3 Sixaxis controller includes some limited motion-sensing functionality, while the Xbox 360 has none—both companies are reportedly working on upgrading or adding this functionality to keep up with the Wii.
At the same time, lower-end gaming systems are rapidly adopting motion control. Small manufacturers like Vtech and Jakks Pacific, for example, both launched accelerometer-powered gaming systems, priced below $100, at this year's annual Toy Fair.
And aftermarket vendors such as In2games are launching accelerometer-based controllers to bring Wii-like functionality to existing consoles. Think guns, light sabers, hand grenades, bazookas—it's all on the table here.