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Big Ideas for Small Innovations

Another day at MD&M West has come and gone, and I'm continuing to see a lot of focus on miniaturization -- which makes sense, considering the multitude of medical applications that could benefit from compact yet efficient devices.

The SQUIGGLE motor from New Scale Technologies measures 2.8 x 2.8 x 6 mm. Product manager Ralph Weber explained that whereas piezo materials usually require a larger voltage charge, this particular motor can be driven from battery power as low as 2.3 VDC. The motor basically consists of a nut and a screw. Piezoelectric actuators then vibrate the nut at a fixed resonant frequency; the nut vibrates in a hula-hoop-like fashion (that's where the "squiggle" comes in), causing the screw to rotate. The motor can be combined with a tiny linear position sensor to form a complete closed-loop system.

The motor has the potential to enable the design of smaller products in a number of fields. For instance, it is currently being used in endoscopes, but Weber said that they are also developing a number of other medical applications that will be released in the next few years -- but in the meantime, mum's the word. He did hint, however, that we're likely to see this motor improve the picture quality in camera phones that currently lack the precise autofocus capability of larger digital cameras. Sounds like exciting things are on the horizon -- though we may have to squint to see them.