Today’s The Day You Finally Learn Quaternions

If you’ve ever dealt with orbital mechanics or sophisticated computer graphics, you’ve probably run across the math term quaternions. [Anyleaf] has a guide to the practical use of this math concept which focuses more on practicality than theory. We like it!

Quaternions are one of at least two ways to model rotations in a 3D space. Most people are familiar with the classic Euler angles which cover yaw, pitch, and roll. However, this method is prone to some ambiguities — in other words, there are multiple ways to go from one Euler state to another and all are equally valid. In addition, Euler angles are prone to gimbal lock where two of the axes are parallel and, thus, don’t have a different effect on the object’s orientation. There are several ways to combat that including the use of quaternions.

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Amazing Motion-Capture Of Bendy Things

Have you, dear reader, ever needed to plot the position of a swimming pool noodle in 3D  and in real time? Of course you have, and today, you’re in luck! I’ve compiled together a solution that’s sure to give you the jumpstart on solving this “problem-you-never-knew-you-had.”

Ok, there’s a bit of a story behind this one. Back in my good-ol’ undergrad days, I got the chance to play with tethered underwater robots. I remember fumbling about thinking: “Hmm, with this robot tether, wouldn’t it be sweet to string up a set of IMUs down the length of the tether to estimate the robot’s location in 3-space?” A few years later, I cooked together this IMU Noodle project to play with some real hardware in the spirit of solving that problem. With a little quaternion math, a nifty IMU, and some custom PCBAs, this idea has gone from some idle brain-ramble into a real device. It’s an incredibly interesting example of using available hardware and a little ingenuity to build a system that is unique and dependable.

As for why? I first saw an IMU noodle pop up on these pages back in 2012 and I was baffled. I just had to build one! Now complete, I figured that there’s enough math and fun-loving electronics nuggets to merit a full article for this month’s after-hour adventures. Dear reader, let me tell you a wonderful story where math meets electronics and works up the courage to ask it out for brunch.

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