How Nano Motion Sensors Can Improve Your Building Design

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Image Caption: Visualization of a hand in motion during a conversation  Image Credit: © jeanbaptisteparis | Flickr
Image Caption: Visualization of a hand in motion during a conversation Image Credit: © jeanbaptisteparis | Flickr

Motion sensors are already all around us, they exist in certain appliances, mobile phones and even within your car — but what if nanotechnology and the miniaturization of these sensors down to the nano scale could have profound impact on the buildings in which we live?


With nanotechnology, development is in the works to make sensors 100 times more sensitive than sensors we have today. Here is a quote explaining this remarkable feat:

“Able to “feel” and sense the movement of individual atoms, the researchers’ new MEMS sensing device uses small carbon tubes, nano in size — about one-billionth of a meter long. Creating these tiny tubes using a process involving methane gas and a furnace, Prof. Hanein has developed a method whereby they arrange themselves on a surface of a silicon chip to accurately sense tiny movements and changes in gravity.”
– from, A More Sensitive Senor Using Nano-sized Carbon Tubes

The question now becomes, how can you as an architect make use of such significant advances in order to improve and uplift the lives of your occupant? And yes, I do believe that uplifting the lives of your occupants should be a primary focus for your work as an architect. Nevertheless, it is time to think outside of the box.


Where Would You Embed a Nano Motion Sensor?

Since MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) will be not only more sensitive, but also a lot smaller, your designs can make use of their ability to sense very slight motion. For instance, with architectural kinetic installations, perhaps your components which are in motion could respond to an array of different triggers — like the way someone walks up the stairs, into a room, or even the way someone sits and repositions themselves in a chair. Thus, an entire architectural space could respond to such slight human behaviors.


Very slight motion could revolutionize architecture, as its elements would be able to react more sensitively to a multitude of variables like wind, earth activity, water, fire, weathering and more subtle occupant behaviors. With nano sized motion sensors an architectural design could go from a more reactive state to an almost predictive state; where when time is of the essence, buildings could be safer. Hospitals, for instance, could treat their patients more effectively.


But that’s not all.


Perhaps offices could be better ergonomically designed as slight movements in the way an employee works at their desk or talks on the phone could prompt certain office components and new materials to foster a happier, healthier, more effective and productive working lifestyle. Similarly, nano motion sensors could detect the activity on a teacher’s and/or student’s desk to then actuate certain designed elements within a classroom to facilitate better teaching and learning.


I challenge you, as an architect, to think beyond the scope of where technology is today — to take into account even the slightest variations of your occupant’s behaviors, because it is in those details that you will often be able to more truly optimize your design vision.

About the author

Maria Lorena Lehman

Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary artist, designer, and author focusing on links between environmental design, science, emerging technologies, and human potential. Lehman is founder of MLL Atelier, an art-based architectural design research practice. Maria Lorena Lehman is author of the award-winning book entitled, Adaptive Sensory Environments. She is recipient of the Harvard University Digital Design Prize for the "most creative use of digital media in relation to the design professions". Lehman also creates sculptures and paintings described as "visual poetry of motion that is a new inspiration" by Daniel Smith, the company that creates watercolors for artists worldwide. Maria Lorena Lehman holds the degrees of Master in Design with Distinction from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and a Bachelor of Architecture, Cum Laude, from Virginia Tech. She is internationally published and in numerous periodicals, including The Architect's Journal, Esquisses Magazine, Architect Magazine and Forbes.