Nintendo's goal with the Wii was to create a new gaming experience that would appeal to a broad audience, but the company probably never imagined that audience would expand to include scientists using Wii Remotes for completely different purposes.
The Wii Remote is now officially one of the world's cheapest scientific sensors. The scientific community at large has been hacking into the wireless gaming controllers and using them for purposes that are quite different than collecting coins and smashing Pikachu off a cliff.
Wired has the story, highlighting a specific group of researchers that have discovered the Wii Remote can be useful to them for a fraction of the cost of normal equipment. Physicist Rolf Hut and hydrologist Willem Luxemburg of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands are featured, showing off what they've done with the little white wireless wonder.
Hut first turned the Wii Remote into a wind sensor that he built in a day. Basically, as long as an LED light is involved, the Wii Remote can track anything. Luxemburg tried something more tricky, measuring a body of water's evaporation, which normally requires equipment priced at $500 or more that still isn't quite accurate. Alternately, the Wii Remote's "tri-axial accelerometer and high-resolution, high-speed infrared camera" can "sense movement with better than 1 millimeter accuracy" for the cost of $40. Using LED lights on floats, Luxemburg's team was able to get real-time water level data on the cheap.
However, the Wii Remote is not without its pitfalls as a sensor. Battery life is fairly short, and it cannot store any data on its own. Hut believes with a little work, these problems and more can be solved. He predicts that some great ideas will come along in as little as a month, planning himself to measure temperature with a Wii Remote somehow.
This is a great example of scientific innovation being driven by where the money is. In this case, it's the multi-billion dollar videogame industry. Burning on the heels of the Wii Remote are Microsoft's Project Natal and the PlayStation 3's Gem, both of which could be presumably used for the same purposes. If the Wiimote can be so useful, I'm most interested in seeing what the much more futuristic Natal can do for science.