Laboratory-grade measuring instruments can be pricey, but some enterprising scientists are finding that the Nintendo Wii controller can serve as an alternative:
The Wiimote can track just about anything: All that’s needed is an LED light. Hydrologist Willem Luxemburg of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands demonstrated a hacked water-level sensor made from a Wiimote and a plastic boat at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union here Monday.
“Just switch it on and make sure it doesn’t get wet,” Luxemburg said.
Luxemburg’s team aimed the Wiimote at a problem that can be very tricky for hydrologists: measuring evaporation on a body of water. The easiest way to measure evaporation is to place pans of water near the lake, or whatever water is being studied, and put pressure sensors in them. The sensors record the drop in pressure as more and more water disappears. But this equipment can run $500 or more, and still the measurements aren’t accurate because the water in the pan gets warmer on land than it would in the lake. Alternatively, measuring the level of water in a pan that is floating in a lake is also tricky because the pan will inevitably be moving.
The Wiimote could overcome the evaporation-measurement problems. It has a tri-axial accelerometer and a high-resolution, high-speed infrared camera, which can sense movement with better than 1 millimeter accuracy.
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