What Are Gyroscopes and Their Use?

Gyroscope technology may be in a mobile phone and an aircraft flight system alike, such technology will generally operate with the same principles in both settings. This is because of the basic design of gyroscopes that allow them to operate as they do, and we will discuss such devices in more detail so that you can better understand them.

For a general gyroscope, such instruments consist of a wheel that is mounted into two or three gimbals for pivoted support. With this basic assembly, the wheel can rotate with ease around a singular axis. Meanwhile, the three gimbals will each be mounted onto one another with orthogonal pivot axes. The wheel will always be in the middle of the gimbals, and its orientation will remain independent from the orientation of all the gimbals.

The outer gimbal is known as the gyroscope frame, and it will generally be mounted in a way that allows it to pivot in an axis based on the support. Typically, the outer gimbal will have one degree of rotational freedom while its axis will be constrained to none. With the second gimbal being mounted to the outer gimbal, it will have two degrees of rotational freedom while pivoting on an axis perpendicular to its support. The wheel, or rotor, will determine the overall spin axis, and the rotor will generally be constrained to rotate perpendicularly to the axis of the inner gimbal. For degrees of freedom, the rotor will have three degrees of freedom while its axis will only have two. If a force is applied to the input axis of the rotor, it will produce a reaction force to the output axis.

Gimbals may either have a free or fixed configuration for their output gimbals, and this will determine how the gyroscope flywheel is able to roll or resist about the output axis. For vehicles such as aircraft and spacecraft, free-output gimbal devices are the most common as they allow for pitch, roll, and yaw attitude angles to be determined with ease. With three-axis, MEMS-based gyroscope instruments, electronic devices like smartphones, cameras, tablets, and smartwatches are also able to obtain readings for 2-axis acceleration sensing. To further the capabilities of these devices, some take advantage of a magnetometer to attain absolute angular measurements that are relative to Earth’s magnetic fields.

Gyroscopes operate on two important properties, those of which are rigidity in space and precession. With rigidity in space, one is describing the principle in which a gyroscope remains in a fixed position across the plane in which it is spinning regardless of Earth’s rotation. With precession, one is describing the resultant action or deflection of a spinning element when force is applied.

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