At the heart of the success of the Wii is the accelerometer chip inside the Wiimote that detects motion in three dimensional space.
Now, the company that provided that first chip, STMicroelectronics, is about to be challenged by others who want to place their own chip inside the beloved gadget.
According to a report from Japan, Nintendo is looking into improving the efficiency and sensitivity of the control and is currently looking into chips from companies such as Kionix Inc, and Tronics. Sensors by Analog Devices Inc are also used used in Nintendo's system.
This is a separate issue from the recently announced Wii MotionPlus controller. The new add-on peripheral adds extra position sensitivity and horizontal rotation (with the help of a gyroscope) to the Wiimote, while keeping the original control innards intact.
Even though the company joined the development of the Wii while it was already in progress, STMicroelectronics and its main contributor, Italian physicist Benedetto Vigna, have been properly recognized for their contribution to the innovative game system.
Before their findings that led to the chip inside the Wii, small accelerometer designs could only detect motion in two dimensions. For example, early airbag designs included accelerometers, but they only inflated in the same direction as a collision.
STMicroelectronics main contribution was the merging of a three-accelerometer panel design with an electronic circuit that, according to Vigna, could recognize 'the displacement of fewer than 10 electrons' and was good enough to detect sensitive motions from 'a flick of the wrist or a big movement of the arm' and could be built at a cheap price.
A couple of years later, the $3 sensors were born and were placed in the Wiimotes. When they were combined with the infrared system that determines a player's initial position and then added to the usual Nintendo quality gamesmanship, they made the magic happen. By 2007, the chips were a part of the biggest selling game system in America.
But even successful technology needs to improve to keep the pace. Future microelectromechanical chip systems are bound to get even smaller, more sensitive, and become even cheaper to build. Thus, the expected war to get into the next version of the Wiimote at hand.
Maybe in three years the chip design will be so advanced that we'll be able to play Wii Bowling with super-small chips in each finger.