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An introduction to inertial navigation systems


Long before ships relied on GPS to determine their location – and even before radio navigation systems such as LORAN, vessels relied on a still impressively sophisticated means of determining their position: inertial navigation. The theory is simple: if you keep a few very accurate gyroscopes and accelerometers on board, you’ll be able to calculate where you are relative to your previous position. Since electronic gyros and accelerometers are all over the place, [Sebastian] thought he would have a go at creating his own inertial navigation system.

The difficulty in using this method is that every gyroscope invariably has some error. Since the measurements from the gyros and accelerometers are integrated together, the error is also integrated, resulting in an increasing positioning error as time goes on. With a few clever algorithms and very good sensors, it’s possible to minimize this error.

[Sebastian] doesn’t have really great hardware – he’s only working with a accelerometer/gyro breakout board that’s good enough for experimental purposes. After reading the accelerometer data with an Arduino, he’s able to capture all the sensor data and read it into a Python script.

The next steps are to figure out a decent algorithm to integrate all the sensor data, and possibly add a barometer and magnetic compass for better compensation for errors. The project is still in the early phases, but seeing as how an inertial navigation system is one of the engineering triumphs of the early 20th century, we’re eagerly awaiting any progress updates.


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