CIRCUITS AND DEVICES
TEMP SENSOR TAKES THE HEAT
When performing heat-intensive applications such as drilling for oil deposits, you need to employ a range
of sensors for things like pressure measurement, porosity
evaluation, and so on. The problem is that you run into
PHOTO COURTES Y OF FRAUNHOFER.
some extreme conditions of temperature, pressure, and
shock that make life rough for sensor systems.
Conventional pressure sensors can withstand
temperatures of only about 80 to 125°C (176 to 257°F)
which is below ambient temperatures encountered at
great depths. But Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for
Microelectronic Circuits and Systems has
developed a sensor that has been demonstrated to
withstand 250°C (482°F) and, in theory, should
survive 350°C (662°F), so you could even use it to,
oh, test the internal pressure of the Thanksgiving
turkey while it's in the oven.
The secret is the use of a silicon oxide wafer
instead of monocrystalline silicon which provides
better electrical insulation and prevents leakage
currents that cause most sensors to fail at high temperatures. Unfortunately, the sensors are still in the
R&D phase and not yet commercially available.
They have great potential for geothermal and automotive applications, so watch for their appearance
after some further studies of performance and
endurance have been completed. ▲
■ Silicon oxide wafer
used for high-temp
KEYLESS KEYBOARD FINDS
14 March 2010
Back when engineer Pete McAlindon was a grad student showing early signs of carpal tunnel syndrome,
he began thinking about how someone might be able to
type without actually typing. He started by thinking about
a device that combined two eight-position joysticks,
providing 8 x 8 = 64 positions, plus a shift key to double
the number to 128 (which just happens to be the number
of characters in the ASCII table). This epiphany led
McAlindon to design the orbi Touch keyless keyboard
which allows users to input conventional keystrokes by
manipulating two grips without the need for
painful wrist action. He eventually founded Blue
Orb to market the device, and it has proven useful
to people with a range of disabilities, including not
only CTS patients but people with autism, cerebral
palsy, and even — via a Braille overlay — the blind.
The kicker is that the technology behind
orbi Touch has morphed into a software application
called SwitchBlade Pro for people who are into
online gaming on their PCs. Apparently, these folks
are often plagued by numb fingers and clumsy
movements that a standard keyboard creates.
SwitchBlade maps all of the functions of a keyboard and mouse onto a standard game controller
so you can use your Xbox, Playstation 3, Saitek P2900, or
Logitech Dual Action unit on the PC. The website
( www.switchbladepro.com) appears to offer a free demo
download but when I clicked on the button, it took me
directly to the "buy" page. Use of the product is by subscription and prices at $1.99/month or $19.99 annually.
Note that if you pay for a year and get tired of it after a
month, you lose: No refunds are offered. Incidentally, if
you want the orbi Touch itself, don't try logging onto
www.blueorb.com; it will automatically switch you to the
SwitchBlade site. You'll need to use www.orbitouch.com
and be willing to pay $399 for it. ▲
■ The orbi Touch keyless keyboard.