Electronic Design

MEMS Sensors Breathe Life Into Wii Controller

Attendees lined up for hours at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles earlier this month for the chance to hold the tiny peripheral that is making a big splash in the gaming industry. A stark contrast to the traditional two-handed wired controller, the Wii Remote (or Wii-mote) can be held in one hand and is motion controlled (see Figure 1). Sans wires, the Wii-mote communicates with the gaming console via Blutooth, and can be used up to 10 meters away.

Central to the Wii-mote’s design are acceleration sensors by Analog Devices (ADI) and STMicroelectronics. Analog Devices and Nintendo have collaborated in the past on software for previous gaming systems. ADI’s acceleration sensors were used in games like Kirby’s Tilt’N Tumble for Game Boy Color.

For the Wii-mote, Analog Devices’s ADXL330 is used to sense motion of the game player in three dimensions of freedom: forward-backward, left-right, and up-down. When the Wii-mote is picked up and manipulated, it provides a quick element of interaction, sensing motion, depth, and positioning dictated by the acceleration of the controller itself.

"We selected the ADXL330 because its accuracy, small size, and extremely low power consumption were critical to the Wii Console’s design objectives," said Genyo Takeda, senior managing director for the Integrated Research & Development Division at Nintendo, "… and key for a wireless controller that will revolutionize the gaming industry."

The Wii-mote also includes STMicroelectronics’ three-axis acceleration sensors. The sensors, which are based on the company’s Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) technology, measure tilt to allow users to move characters, while three-axis sensing transforms the controller into a virtual sword, gearshift, or musical instrument.

In an interview with The Wire, Nintendo industrial designer Lance Barr said that the Wii-mote operates on standard alkaline, lithium ion, or rechargeable AA batteries. Nintendo chose AA batteries, Barr said, because of their cost, but also because the adaptor port on the bottom of the controller presents limitations for an internally chargeable battery.

Already, rival gaming console manufacturers are starting to pick up on the motion-controlled phenomenon. Industry insiders say that Sony has been working on a prototype for a motion-controlled controller for the Playstation 3.

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