Hardware hacking the MacBook movement sensor

Developers keep finding new and unexpected uses for hardware and software – seemingly never more so than on the Mac and OS X.

Whether they’re using the iSight camera to scan bar codes into your Delicious Library or turning the Apple Remote into a alarm key-fob in TheftSensor there’s always some novel hack around the corner for the latest bit of kit.

Current attention is focused on the motion sensor added to MacBook and MacBook Pro’s that is used to park the hard-drive should sudden movement be detected.

In true Apple fashion rather than add a simple yes/no movement sensor the device can detect tilts and both the X and Y axis as well as the current level of force.

With a little imagination those enterprising third-party developers have come up with…

Sudden Motion Sensor

Amit Singh is a man with a mission – which is just as well because he doesn’t have a MacBook or a MacBook Pro. So quite how he’s written a bunch of fun apps and a useful command line motion sensor tool is another matter.

Amit includes some technical coverage of the sensor and how it works over the I2C bus Apple also use for temperature sensing, fan control etc.

He also has a useful command-line tool and some fun hacks such as showing a MacBook Pro in 3D oriented as yours currently is and a window that self-adjusts itself to always be horizontal. Alas, at least on my MacBook Pro, the X axis seems to be inverted and the invert X axis didn’t work so the effect fails to impress.

More interesting is his page on using the motion sensor as an input device. While not as advanced as the Nintendo Wand – it doesn’t support detection of position – it still holds some promise as he illustrates.


With the sensor sporting a force level it was only a matter of time before somebody used that sensor magic to come up with something like MacSaber.

The sole purpose of this app is to make your $2,000 laptop hum like a Star Wars lightsaber as you swing it dangerously around the room with a satisfying tzzzzum and sheuw.

Just don’t rely on the midichorians to stop your MacBook slipping through your fingers…

SmackBook Pro

You might be thinking this sensor is nothing but a curiosity but SmackBook Pro illustrates a rather novel use to desktop switching.

Desktop switching is one of those problem areas for short cuts. You might be using any one of tens of apps and finding a good shortcut that’s not taken by any of those applications could really be a problem.

SmackBook Pro’s solution is to tap the side of your machine to switch desktops and the way the new desktop flies in from the side is a great visual indicator of what has just happened as the video illustrates.

I’m not sure constantly tapping the side of an LCD is good for it’s health.

Many more hacks to be found at Raul’s blog.


1 responses

  1. Avatar for Alex Brenner

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    Alex Brenner May 31, 2006