Microchip develops low-power motion controller

We've heard plenty about motion controllers for game consoles and the PC, but what about mobile devices? Arizona-based semiconductor firm Microchip Technology has developed a low-power motion controller that could be viable for smartphones and other mobile systems. Rather than relying on cameras or wands to track motion, this GestIC tech employs an electrical field to follow hand gestures. The field can be generated by electrodes printed on a circuit board or embedded in a touchscreen, and the effective range is supposed to be about six inches.

What makes this technology intriguing for mobile use is its modest power consumption. The associated MGC3130 controller offers multiple low-power modes and draws no more than 90 milliwatts while tracking movement. Impressively, Microchip claims the controller can sip as little as 150 microwatts while still in an active state.

The controller samples gestures 200 times a second with a "mouse-like" resolution of 150 DPI, according to Microchip. The chip is programmed with a library of "intuitive and natural human gestures," which include flicking and circular motions. Developers can employ these pre-baked gestures or create their own using the 3D coordinate and vector data generated by the system. There are some limitations, though. According to Technology Review, the controller can't track simultaneous independent finger movements or differentiate between an open hand and a closed fist. Microchip is reportedly working on both of those issues.

The MGC3130 is sampling now and will cost high-volume customers just $2.26 when the chip goes into mass production in April. Microchip says it's already working with device makers, and we could see the technology come to the PC. The press release mentions an example application that combines the motion sensor with a keyboard to allow users to activate Windows 8 gestures without reaching up for a touchscreen.

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