November 28, 2006 Seimens has developed a tiny new opto-mechanical sensor that recognizes if it is tilted vertically or horizontally. As a result, a digital camera fitted with this sensor could, for example, “know” if a picture is being taken in portrait or landscape format. When equipped with the appropriate software, the camera would immediately store the images with the correct orientation so that the user would not need to tilt his or her camera to view the pictures. In addition, users would no longer have to spend lots of time rotating images on the monitor after the pictures have been transferred to the computer. The new orientation sensor was developed by the Siemens subsidiary Osram Opto Semiconductors, which recently presented it at the Electronica trade fair in Munich. The sensor is especially designed for use in mobile devices such as cell phones, MP3 players and digital cameras. This may not seem like a big deal for everybody, but we only have a certain number of minutes on the planet, and every minute wasted turning a pic around the right way is another experience you miss out on.
Known as “SFH 7710”, the new sensor is a small, energy-efficient component with a digital output. The sensor measures four square millimeters and is 1.8 millimeters high. Since it operates on a supply voltage of 2.5 V and requires 50 _A of electricity on average, it won’t put too great a strain on the battery of a camera or cell phone.
The sensor uses a tiny metal pellet and a light barrier. Measuring less than one millimeter in diameter, the pellet can move freely along a predefined path, where its position is influenced solely by the force of gravity. The light barrier is blocked if the pellet is located at one end of the path, while moving it to the other end enables signals to get through to the light barrier's receiver. This digital signal is processed by the camera’s software, which rotates the image to the correct position when saving it to the memory. As a result, pictures automatically appear in the correct format on the camera’s display. The sensor is designed to fit into very small devices and it can determine if it is tilted to the right or left. Two sensors are required to cover both of these directions, and three suffice to determine exactly how the device is oriented in three dimensions.