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For embedded systems like the STM32 Discovery Board, many readings are made possible through devices known as gyroscopes. Also found in aircraft instrumentation, gyroscopes are a form of device that may be used to either measure or maintain orientation or angular velocity. This is often used by vehicles and devices to determine positioning and attitude, though such readings may also serve other important needs as well. In this blog, we will discuss gyroscopes in more detail, allowing you to have a better understanding of their use and functionality.
While gyroscopes may vary from assembly to assembly, they generally come in the form of a spinning wheel or disc where the spin axis, or axis of rotation, has the freedom to independently assume any orientation. As such, the orientation of the spin axis remains unchanged when the mounting of the gyroscope is tilted or rotated. This is because of the conservation of angular momentum which is the key to a gyroscope’s functionality.
As stated before, gyroscopes may be used in a number of systems, and one can regularly find them in the compasses and autopilots situated on naval ship as aircraft, within the steering mechanisms of torpedoes and similar weaponry, as well as within inertial guidance systems for ballistic missiles, satellites, and space launch vehicles. In all of these various settings, the gyroscope will either utilize a rotating wheel or revolving beam of light that allows for deviations from a set orientation to be detected and determined with ease. When these readings are found, the measurement is referred to as the orientation and angular velocity of an object.
While all spinning objects have gyroscopic properties, the two most important properties for gyroscopic measurements are rigidity in space and precession. Rigidity in space refers to the principle in which the gyroscope will remain in a fixed position across the plane in which it is spinning, regardless of the rotation of earth. An example of this is a spinning bicycle wheel, as the faster the wheel spins, the more stable it will be on its plane of rotation. If the wheel were to slow down, however, it would become very maneuverable but less stable.
The other important property is precession, that of which is the tilting or turbine of the gyroscope as a response to a deflective force. Occurring at a point that is 90 degrees or more from the direction of rotation, precession ensures that the gyroscope is capable of detecting any rate of turn. This is done by the gyroscope sensing the amount of pressure that is caused by a direction adjustment. With this simple set of operations, gyroscopes can obtain accurate readings while only occasionally requiring corrective realignment to compensate for minor errors resulting from precession.
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