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What is an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU)?

What does your smartphone have in common with an aircraft? At first glance, you’d probably think, “Nothing.” But, both of these machines use a similar piece of equipment.

This equipment is the inertial measurement unit (IMU). These devices act as sensors that provide time-series data that helps with tracking and navigation.

An IMU device is the reason why your phone can use GPS features. It identifies your current position relative to your destination.

IMU enabled-GPS devices can even tell what direction you’re facing! That’s why your GPS knows you need to make a U-turn after missing your road.

Inertial measurement units have several uses, ranging from the everyday GPS to navigating spacecraft. To learn more about these remarkable units, check out our guide below!

What is Inertial Measurement Unit: How It Works

How exactly does an inertial measurement unit work? What enables it to locate your device and track its location?

The answer is that IMU devices include hardware that enables these functions. Most IMU devices contain an accelerometer and gyroscope.

In some cases, they also include magnetometers and, more rarely, barometers. So, what role do these devices play?

The accelerometer measures your acceleration. It tells how fast the device travels, a helpful feature in aircraft, and GPS functions.

The IMU gyroscope measures your angular velocity. This feature plays a prominent role in monitoring aircraft technology.

A magnetometer measures the Earth’s magnetic field. In doing so, it provides a heading for your destination. An example of a magnetometer is a standard compass.

Finally, there’s the barometer. Although it’s not as common, this device can play a critical role in aircraft technology. It measures the air pressure, informing the plane or helicopter of its altitude.

IMU Devices in Smartphones and Tablets

As mentioned earlier, even commonplace devices like smartphones and tablets have IMU device technology. Most smartphones have an IMU sensor inside their hardware.

This smaller version of an IMU device can exist thanks to micro-electromechanical systems. These systems are the things that enable GPS and phone tracking apps to operate. Otherwise, you’d have a much harder time keeping up with these devices.

The same technology allows manufacturers to install an IMU device in tablets. This technology is why your tablet can use many of the same geographically-based apps as your phone. If you’re interested in this subject, learn more about IMU devices in smart technology here.

Large Scale IMU Device Disadvantages

IMU devices sometimes provide inconveniences when used in airplanes and other aircraft vehicles. They sometimes accumulate errors when they integrate with navigation equations.

For instance, it may double integrate your acceleration, leading to an inaccurate position reading. If left unchecked, this small error could lead to major drifts.

So, most planes and helicopters supplement their inertial measurement unit with extra sensors. Some examples of these sensors include cameras and GNSS receivers.

These additional devices give the system more information to keep it stabilized. As a result, they can reset any accumulated errors in the IMU device.

Discover More About IMU Devices

The inertial measurement unit is an incredible technological unit that guides several devices. As you can see, it has many uses, ranging from the everyday GPS to government aircraft. Learn more about these devices today!

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