Drivers worldwide soon will be able to navigate dangerous road conditions more safely, thanks to sensor technology developed by researchers at the University of California at Irvine. The researchers have designed a 1.7 millimeter-wide device that helps stabilize automobiles, allowing them to pass safely through hazardous conditions such as sharp turns and slippery roads that could lead to a rollover.

The device - a micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) gyroscope - maintains a constant center of gravity and alerts the safety system to correct when it detects the vehicle beginning to spin or roll. The MEMS gyroscope is a significant technological step forward because it can operate under harsh conditions and also is relatively inexpensive.

"To be useful for electronic stability control, these sophisticated microscopic sensors have to be fast, reliable and cheap," said Andrei Shkel, mechanical and aerospace engineering professor and UCI MicroSystems Laboratory director. "They also must operate with confidence in the harsh automotive environment, which encompasses a daunting combination of factors including temperature, vibration, shock and humidity. In the next few years, these systems will be as common as present-day passenger protection airbags," he said. "They will help save millions of lives."

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