Four Ways IMUs Help Us Control Our World

June 14, 2019 | Author: Kathryn Kearney

Honeywell pioneered the science behind inertial measurement units (IMUs) a quarter-century ago and has cranked out more than 500,000 of these sophisticated sensors that help guide, navigate and orient just about everything that flies.

IMUs use gyroscopes, accelerometers, magnetometers and electronics to enable precise navigation in GPS-denied areas. With these sensors onboard, the platform always knows where it is, what direction it is going, at what speed and how far it has travelled. 

We’re now bringing our IMU technology down to earth with new, industrial, autonomous applications. Engineers in dozens of industries are finding that inertial navigation solutions, which couple inertial sensors with global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receivers are required for navigating unmanned applications.

IMUs and inertial navigation systems are used in various manned and unmanned applications such as agriculture, AUVs, communications, industrial equipment, marine, oil and gas, robotics, survey and mapping, stabilized platforms, transportation, UAVs and UGVs. In this article, we take a deeper look into how IMUs are helping us navigate new applications. Here are a few examples:

Controlling Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. You hear a lot these days about autonomous and remotely piloted drones performing a diverse array of tasks, from conducting military surveillance, to inspecting power poles and powerlines, to delivering pizzas. IMU/GNSS technology enables precise navigation and positioning, even when GPS signals are unavailable or unreliable. For example, when the UAV is flying in an urban canyon, created by tall buildings. Our technology is so accurate it’s being used in aerial 3D mapping applications, which require precise location data so a computer can reassemble 2D slices to create a 3D image.

Guiding Autonomous Vehicles. IMU capabilities are ideal for autonomous vehicles, like the coming generation of urban air mobility (UAM) aircraft and self-driving cars. The IMU provides critical information about a vehicle’s precise position, direction and speed, even when the vehicle is deprived of GPS signal because it is in an urban canyon, forest, parking structure or tunnel. In a real-world test on a self-driving car, a Honeywell IMU was able to pinpoint a vehicle’s location within 35 meters, an error of less than 0.2 percent, after a 2.5-hour journey.  

Making Robots More Capable. As factories become more automated, engineers are recognizing that IMU characteristics can complement other sensors used in autonomous machines, including robots that perform various tasks. Because they’re lightweight and compact, IMUs can be placed in several spots on a robot where they can provide precise data to help with stability, balance, positioning and movement.

Stabilizing Cameras and Antennas. Honeywell IMUs can detect the slightest vibrations in a vehicle or other moving platform on which an antenna or camera is mounted. These measurements are fed into a control system, which corrects or stabilizes the platform. This is especially important when antennas are mounted on a moving vehicle like a ship, helicopter, unmanned aerial vehicle or off-road vehicle. The IMU senses the roll, pitch and heading the vehicle and provides real-time data that enables the platform to compensate for movement so the antenna stays engaged and locked onto the signal.


Kathryn Kearney

Content Marketing Specialist

Katie Kearney is the global content marketing specialist for Honeywell Aerospace.

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