The amazing power of MEMS, in two GIFs

(General Electric)
(General Electric)

Welcome to Unappreciated Innovations: a look at little-known, unheralded technologies that make our lives better.

Watching a piece of popcorn pop in slow motion is a beautiful thing. But don’t get lost in that. Notice the flashing Christmas light. Thanks to a slow-motion camera we can see just how fast it flickers. The light is turning on and off as fast as 10,000 times a second thanks to a microelectromechanical system (MEMS), which acts as sensors and actuators.

When you rotate your tablet or smartphone from portrait view to landscape — and vice versa — you can thank MEMS for the screen automatically rotating. The airbag in your car knows when to go off because of MEMS, which often works as accelerometers, detecting changes in motion. A drastic acceleration or deceleration is a signal to your car that you’ve struck something and your airbags should deploy.

If you shake your smartphone to report an error in Google Maps, MEMS is the reason the app knows you’re shaking the phone. A Nintendo Wii controller relies on MEMS to measure motion in three directions.

These GIFs come to us via the SloMo guys at GE. So here’s to you MEMS, thanks for making the world better.

(General Electric)
(General Electric)
Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Matt McFarland · January 13, 2014