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Mechanical Sensors

Chapter 6

Force sensors

A class of sensors
Includes a fairly large number of different sensors
Based on many principles
Will discuss four types of general sensors

force sensors
pressure sensors

cover most principles involved in sensing of

mechanical quantities - directly and indirectly.

Force sensors

Some of these sensors are used for applications

which initially do not seem to relate to
mechanical quantities.

Example: measure temperature through expansion of

gases in a volume (pneumatic temperature sensor
discussed in chapter 3).

Some mechanical sensors do not involve motion

or force.

Example: the fiber optic gyroscope and will be

discussed below

Force sensors - Strain Gauges

Strain gauge - The main tool in sensing force.

Strain gauges, measure strain
Strain can be related to stress, force, torque and
a host of other stimuli including displacement,
acceleration or position.
At the heart of all strain gauges is the change in
resistance of materials due to change in their
length due to strain.

Force sensors - Strain Gauges

Definition of strain: consider a length of metallic

wire L, of conductivity and cross-sectional
area A.
The resistance of the wire is:




Force sensors - Strain Gauges

Taking the differential on both sides:




Force sensors - Strain Gauges

For small deformations (linear deformation), both terms

on the right hand side are linear functions of strain, .
Bundling both effects together (that is, the change in
conductivity and deformation) we can write:



Strain Gauge

For any given strain gauge the gauge factor is a

Ranges between 2 to 6 for most metallic strain
From 40-200 for semiconductor strain gauges.
The strain gauge relation gives a simple linear
relation between the change in resistance of the
sensor and the strain applied to it.

Stress and Strain

Strain and Stress

Given the conductor discussed above and applying a

force along its axis, the stress is :




Strain and Stress

Strain is a normalized linear
deformation of the material
Stress is a measure of elasticity of
the material.

Strain gauges

Strain gauges come in many forms and types.

Any material, combination of materials or
physical configuration that changes its
resistance due to strain constitutes a strain
Will restrict our discussion to two types that
account for most of the strain gauges in use

wire (or metal) strain gauges - resistive

semiconductor strain gauges.

metallic strain gauge

In its simplest form:

A length of wire, held between two posts
When a force is applied to them, will deform the
wire causing a change in the wires resistance.
This method was used in the past and is valid
It is not very practical (construction, attachment
to system, change in resistance is very small).
Sometimes, multiple lengths of wire were used.

Wire strain gauge

Metallic strain gauge common


A more practical strain gauge - resistive

Built out of a thin layer of conducting material
Deposited on an insulating substrate (plastic,
ceramic, etc.)
Etched to form a long, meandering wire (figure)

Constantan (60% copper, 40% nickel) is most common

negligible temperature coefficient of resistance (TCR
see Table 3.1)).

Other materials are commonly used (table)

The resistive strain gauge

Materials for resistive strain


Constantan (Cu60Ni40)
Nichrome (Ni80Cr20)
Chromel (Ni65Fe25Cr10)
Platinum Rhodium

Gage Resistivity
factor [
























Metallic strain gauge common


Strain gauges may also be used to

measure multiple axis strains by simply
using more than one gauge or by
producing them in standard
Some of these are shown next.

Two-axis strain gauge

120 degree rosette

45 degree rosette

45 degree stacked rosette

membrane rosette

Semiconductor strain gauges

Operate like resistive strain gauges

Construction and properties are different.
The gauge factor for semiconductors is much
higher than for metals.
The change in conductivity due to strain is much
larger than in metals.
Are typically smaller than metal types
Often more sensitive to temperature variations
(require temperature compensation).

Semiconductor strain gauges

All semiconductor materials exhibit changes in

resistance due to strain
The most common material is silicon because of its
inert properties and ease of production.
The base material is doped, by diffusion of doping
materials (usually boron or arsenide for p or n type)
to obtain a base resistance as needed.
The substrate provides the means of straining the
silicon chip and connections are provided by
deposition of metal at the ends of the device.

Semiconductor strain gauges

Construction of a semiconductor strain


Semiconductor strain gauges

Other types of semiconductor strain


Semiconductor strain gauges

One of the important differences between

conductor and semiconductor strain
gauges is that semiconductor strain
gauges are essentially nonlinear devices
with typically a quadratic transfer function:


PTC and NTC operation

Strain gauges - applications

Strain gauge must be made to react to a force.

The strain gauge is attached to the member in which strain is sensed,

usually by bonding. Cannot be re-used!
Special bonding agents exist for different applications and types of
Usually supplied by the manufacturers of strain gauges or specialized

Strain gauges are often used for bending strain,

twisting (torsional and shear strain) and longitudinal
tensioning/deformation (axial strain) of structures
(engine shafts, bridge loading, truck weighing and
many many others)

Strain gauges - properties

The properties of strain gauges vary by application

Most metal gauges have a nominal resistance
between 100 and 1000, (lower and higher
resistances are available)
Gauge factor between 2-5
Dimensions from less than 3x3 mm to lengths in
excess of 150 mm (almost any size may be fabricated
if necessary).
Rosettes (multiple axis strain gauges) are available
with 45, 90 and 120 axes as well as diaphragm and
other specialized configurations.

Strain gauges - properties

Typical sensitivities are 5m

Deformation is of the order of 2-3m/m.
Much higher strains can be measured with specialized
Semiconductor strain gauges
usually smaller than most resistive strain gauges
can be made with higher resistances.
their use is limited to low temperatures
can be much less expensive than metal strain gauges.
often part of another device

Strain gauges - errors

Strain gauges are subject to a variety of errors.

Due to temperatures - resistance, especially in
semiconductors, is affected by temperature in
the same way as by strain.
In metal gauges, this is usually small (materials
with low temperature coefficients of resistance).
In semiconductors, temperature compensation is
sometimes provided on board or a separate
sensor may be used for this purpose.

Strain gauges - errors

A third source of error is due to the strain

itself, which, over time, tends, to
permanently deform the gauge.

can be eliminated by periodic re-calibration

can be reduced by ensuring that the
maximum deformation allowed is small and
below the recommended for the device.

Strain gauges - errors

Additional errors
Due the bonding process
Thinning of materials due to cycling.
Most strain gauges are rated for:

given number of cycles (i.e. 106 or 107 cycles),

maximum strain (3% is typical for conducting strain gauges,
1% for semiconductor strain gauges)
temperature characteristics specified for use with a
particular material (aluminum, stainless steel, carbon steel)
for optimal performance when bonded
Typical accuracies are of the order of 0.2-0.5%.

Typical resistive strain gauges

Other Strain Gauges

Other strain gauges - for specialized

Optical fiber strain gauges.

The change in length of the fiber due to strain changes

the phase of the light through the fiber.
Measuring the light phase, either directly or in an
interferrometric method can produce readings of minute
strain that cannot be obtained in other strain gauges.
The device and the electronics necessary is far more
complicated than standard gauges.

Other Strain Gauges

There are also liquid strain gauges which rely in the

resistance of an electrolytic liquid in a flexible container
which can be deformed.
Another type of strain gauge that is used on a limited basis
is the plastic strain gauge.
These are made as ribbons or threads based on graphite
or carbon in a resin as a substrate and used in a way
similar to other strain gauges.
Very high gauge factors (up to about 300), they are
otherwise difficult to use and inaccurate as well as
unstable mechanically, severely limiting their practical use.

Force and tactile sensors

Forces can be measured in many ways

The simplest - use a strain gauge

Calibrate the output in units of force.

Other methods include

measuring acceleration of a mass (F=ma),

measuring the displacement of a spring under action of
force (x=kF, k is the spring constant),
measuring the pressure produced by force and some
variations of these basic methods.
None of these is a direct measure of force
most are more complicated than use of a strain gauge.

Force and tactile sensors

The basic method is shown in Figure 6.9.

One measures the tensile force by measuring the strain
in the strain gauge.

The sensor is usually provided with attachment holes

may also be used in compressive mode by pre-stressing the
strain gauge.

This type of sensor is often used to measure forces in

locations such as machine tools, engine mounts and the
Often it is called a load cell, especially when large forces
are measured.

Force sensor

Force sensor

Load cells

Tactile sensors

Tactile sensors are force sensors but:

Definition of tactile action is broader, the
sensors are also more diverse.
One view is that tactile action as simply sensing
the presence of force. Then:

A simple switch is a tactile sensor

This approach is commonly used in keyboards
Membrane or resistive pads are used
The force is applied against the membrane or a silicon
rubber layer.

Tactile sensors

In many tactile sensing applications it is often

important to sense a force distribution over a
specified area (such as the hand of a robot).
Either an array of force sensors or
A distributed sensor may be used.
These are usually made from piezoelectric films
which respond with an electrical signal in
response to deformation (passive sensors).
An example is shown in Figure 6.11.

A tactile sensor

Tactile sensors

The polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) film is sensitive
to deformation.
The lower film is driven with an ac signal
It contracts and expands mechanically and
When the upper film is deformed, its signal changes
from normal and the amplitude and or phase of the
output signal is now a measure of deformation

Tactile sensors

Another example is shown in Figure 6.12

Used to sense body motion due to

Tactile sensors

The simplest tactile sensors are made of

conductive polymers or elastomers or with
semiconductive polymers
Called piezoresistive sensors or force
sensitive resistive (FSR) sensors.
In these devices, the resistance of the
material is pressure dependent and is
shown schematically in Figure 6.13.

FSR sensor

Tactile sensors

A conducting foam (such as the foam used to ship

semiconductors) and two electrodes.
The resistance of FSR sensors is a nonlinear function of force
(Figure 6.13)
The change in resistance is high (large dynamic range)
The sensor is quite immune to noise and easily interfaced with
Either dc or ac sources may be used and the device may be
as large or as small as possible.
An array of sensors may be built by using one large electrode
on one side of the film and multiple electrodes on the other


By virtue of Newtons second law (F = ma) a

sensor may be made to sense acceleration by
simply measuring the force on a mass.
At rest, acceleration is zero and the force on the
mass is zero.
At any acceleration a, the force on the mass is
directly proportional given a fixed mass.
This force may be sensed in any method of
sensing force but, again, the strain gauge will be
representative of direct force measurement.


Other methods of sensing acceleration.

Magnetic methods and electrostatic (capacitive) methods are
quite commonly used.
The distance between the mass and a fixed surface, which
depends on acceleration can be made into a capacitor.
Capacitance increases (or decreases) with acceleration.
A magnetic sensor can be used by measuring the field of a
magnetic mass. The higher the acceleration, the closer (or
farther) the magnet from a fixed surface and hence the larger
or lower the magnetic field.
The methods used in chapter 5 to sense position or proximity
can now be used to sense acceleration.

Accelerometers - principles

Methods of acceleration sensing start with the

mechanical model of a mass ( Figure 6.14).
The mass, moves under the influence of forces, has a
restoring force (spring) and a damping force (which
essentially prevents it from oscillating).

Accelerometers - principles

Under these conditions, and assuming the mass can

only move in one direction (along the horizontal
axis), Newtons second law may be written as:



Accelerometers - principles

Therefore, for a useful acceleration sensor (often

called accelerometer) it is sufficient to provide a
component which can move relative to the
sensors housing and a means of sensing this
A displacement sensor (position, proximity, etc.)
can be used to provide an appropriate output
proportional to acceleration.

Accelerometers - Capacitive

One plate of a small capacitor is fixed and

connected physically to the body of the sensor.
A second plate serves as the inertial mass of the
sensor is free to move and connected to a
restoring spring.
Three basic configurations are shown in Figure
The restoring force is provided by springs (Figure
6.15a,c) or by a cantilevers fixed end (Figure

Capacitive accelerometers

Accelerometers - Capacitive

In Figure 6.15a and 6.15b, the distance between the

plates changes with acceleration.
In Figure 6.15c, the effective area of the plates changes
while the distance between the plates stays constant.
In either case, acceleration either increases the
capacitance or decreases it, depending on the direction
of motion.
In a practical accelerator, the plates must be prevented
from touching by stoppers
Some kind of damping mechanism must be added to
prevent the springs or the beam from oscillating

Capacitive accelerometers practical considerations

A more practical device:

Capacitive accelerometers practical considerations

Cantilever beam
End of travel stops
Capacitance proportional to vertical acceleration

Changes in capacitance are very small

Indirect methods such as using the capacitor in an LC
oscillator are used.
The frequency of oscillation is a direct measure of

Can be produced as semiconductor devices by

etching both the mass, fixed plate and springs
directly into silicon.

Capacitive accelerometers practical considerations

Second structure: a bridge structure:

The mass moves between two plates and forms an upper and
lower capacitor.
A differential mode is obtained since at rest the two capacitors
are the same.

Strain gauge accelerometers

The mass is suspended on a cantilever beam

Strain gauge senses the bending of the beam

Variable inductance

A rod connected and moving with the mass links

to a coil. The inductance of the coil is
proportional to the position of the mass
An LVDT may be used

Hall element magnetic


Acceleration changes distance to hall element

Hall element output is calibrated as acceleration
The magnet may be on the hall element side
(biased hall element)

Other types of accelerometers

Many other types of accelerometers

All employ a moving mass in one form or another.
Example: the heated gas accelerometer
Gas in cavity is heated to an equilibrium temp.
Two (or more) thermocouples are provided
equidistant from the heater.
Under rest conditions, the two thermocouples are
at the same temperature. Their reading (one
thermocouples is the sense thermocouple, the
second the reference thermocouple) is zero.

Other types of accelerometers

Under acceleration occurs, the gas shifts to the direction

opposite the motion (the gas is the inertial mass) causing
a temperature gradient which is calibrated in terms of

Other types of accelerometers

Other accelerometers use optical means

Example: activating a variable shutter by
means of the moving mass
Optical fiber accelerometers use an optical
fiber position sensor,
Vibrating reeds whose vibration rate
changes with acceleration
Many more.

Accelerometers - notes

Multiple axis accelerometers can be built by essentially using

single axis accelerometers with axes perpendicular to each other.
These can be fabricated as two or three axes accelerometer or
two or three single axis accelerometers may be attached
Proper damping must be provided to avoid oscillations of the
mass while still keeping reasonable response times.
The uses of accelerometers are vast and include air bag
deploying sensors, door unlocking, weapons guidance systems,
vibration and shock measurement, satellites, intrusion alarms (by
detecting motion), and control and other similar applications.

Accelerometers - notes

Sensitivity: from a few g and up

Noise and errors: vibrations, temperature
variations, deterioration of the return spring

Velocity sensing

Velocity sensing is more complicated than

acceleration sensing.
One can always measure something
proportional to velocity. For example:

We may infer the velocity of a car from the rotation of

the wheels
Or the transmission shaft ( a common method of
velocity measurement in cars)
Or count the number of rotation of a shaft per unit
time in an electric motor.

Velocity sensing

A free-standing sensor that measures velocity directly is

much more difficult to produce.
One approach that may be used is the induction of emf in
a coil due to a magnet.
This requires that the coil be stationary
If the velocity is constant (no acceleration) the magnet
cannot move relative to the coil.
For changing velocity (when acceleration is not zero), the
principle in Figure 6.21 may be useful.

Velocity sensing

Velocity sensing

The emf induced in the coils is governed by

Faradays law:



Velocity sensing

constant velocity cannot be sensed (zero

Relative velocity of objects is easily
We shall see fluid velocity sensors
Also doppler effect sensors, time of flight
devices - etc,

Pressure sensors - introduction

Sensing of pressure is only second in importance to

sensing of strain in mechanical systems
These sensors are used either in their own right, (to
measure pressure), or to sense secondary quantities
such as force, power, temperature and the like.
One of the reasons for their prominence is that in
sensing gases and fluids, force is not an option
only pressure can be measured and related to
properties of these substances.

Pressure sensors - introduction

Another reason for their widespread use and of

exposure of most people to them is their use in
cars, atmospheric weather prediction, heating
and other consumer oriented devices.
The barometer hanging on many a wall and the
use of atmospheric pressure as indication of
weather conditions has helped popularize the
concept of pressure and pressure sensing

Pressure sensors - Units

The basic SI unit of pressure is the pascal:

1 pascal [Pa] = 1 newton per square meter [N/m 2]
The pascal is an exceedingly small unit

kPa = 103 Pa
Mpa = 106 Pa.

Other often units are

bar 1 bar = 0.1 Mpa

torr 1 torr = 133Pa.
millibar (1.333 torr=100Pa)
microbar (1 bar = 0.1 Pa)

Pressure sensors - Units

In common use - the atmosphere defined as

the pressure exerted by a 1 meter column of water at 4C
on one square centimeter.
1 atm = 0.101 Mpa = 760 torr

The use of the atmosphere indicates a totally

parallel system of pressure based either on a
column of water or a column of mercury.
The torr (named after Torricelli) is defined as the
pressure exerted by a 1mm of mercury (at 0C and
normal atmospheric pressure)

Pressure sensors - Units

In the US the common (non-metric) unit of pressure is the

psi (pounds per square inch):
1 psi = 6.89 kPa = 0.0703 atm.
Vacuum is often used, sometimes as a separate quantity.
Vacuum means lack of pressure,
Understood as indicating pressure below ambient.
One talks about so many psi of vacuum
This simply refers to so many psi below ambient

System of units for pressurs

Pressure sensing

Pressure is force per unit area

Sensing it follows the same principle as the
sensing of force
Measuring the displacement of an appropriate
member of the sensor in response to pressure.
The range of methods is quite large and includes
thermal, optical as well as magnetic and electrical
Earliest sensors were purely mechanical

Mechanical pressure sensors

Mechanical pressure sensors.

Direct transduction from pressure to mechanical

These devices are actuators that react to pressure
Are as common today as ever.
Some mechanical devices have been combined with
other sensors to provide electrical output
Others are still being used in their original form.
The most common of these is the Bourdon tube.

The Bourdon Tube

Mechanical pressure sensors

Has been used for over a century in pressure gauges

The dial indicator is connected directly to the tube.
Still the most common pressure gauge used today

does not need additional components


Typically used for gases but it can also be used for

sensing fluid pressure.
Tire gauges, fuel gauges, etc.

Bellows and diaphragms

Principle: expansion of a diaphragm or a bellows

under the influence of pressure.
The motion produces may be used to directly
drive an indicator or
May be sensed by a displacement sensor
(LVDT, magnetic, capacitive etc.)
A simple diaphragm pressure sensor used in
wall barometers is shown in Figure 6.24.

Diaphragm pressure sensor

Bellows and diaphragms

One side is held fixed (in this case by the small screw
which also serves to adjust, or calibrate it)
The other moves in response to pressure.
The device is hermetically sealed at a given pressure
Any pressure below the internal pressure will force the
diaphragm to expand (like a baloon)
Any higher pressure will force it to contract.
Very simple and trivially inexpensive, but:

Possibility of leakage
Dependence on temperature.

Bellows and diaphragms

A bellows (Figure 6.25) is a similar device

Can be used for direct reading or to
activate another sensor.
The bellows, in various forms is also
being used as an actuator.
One of its common uses is in vacuum
motors used in vehicles to activate
valves and to move slats and doors,
particularly in heating and air conditioning

Membranes and plates

The most common devices used for pressure

sensing are the thin plate and the diaphragm or
Membrane: a thin plate with negligible thickness
Thin plate: a thick membrane
Their behavior and response to pressure is
different. In relation to Figure 6.26, the deflection of
the center of a membrane (maximum deflection)
which is under radial tension S and the stress in the
diaphragm are given as:

Membrane and thin plate

Membranes and thin plates

In relation previous figure, the deflection of the center

of a membrane (maximum deflection) which is under
radial tension S, and the stress in the diaphragm are
given as:




Membranes and thin plates

If the thickness t is not negligible, the

behavior is different and given as:

Vis thePoissonsratio


Pressure sensors

Pressure sensors come in four basic types :

Absolute pressure sensors (PSIA): pressure sensed

relative to absolute vacuum.
Differential pressure sensors (PSID): the difference
between two pressures on two ports of the sensor is
Gage pressure sensors (PSIG): the pressure relative to
ambient pressure is sensed. (Most common)
Sealed gage pressure sensor (PSIS): the pressure
relative to a sealed pressure chamber (usually 1 atm at
sea level or 14.7 psi) is sensed.

Piezoresistive pressure

Piezoresistor is a semiconductor strain gauge

Most modern pressure sensors use it rather than
the conductor type strain gauge.
Resistive (metal) strain gauges are used only at
higher temperature or for specialized applications
May be fabricated of silicon

simplifies construction
allows on board temperature compensation, amplifiers
and conditioning circuitry.

Piezoresistive pressure sensors

Basic structure:

two gauges are parallel to one dimension of

the diaphragm
The two gauges can be in other directions

Piezoresistive pressure sensors

The change in resistance of the two

piezoresistos is:




Piezoresistive pressure sensors

Piezoresistors and the diaphragm are

fabricated of silicon.
A vent is provided, making this a gage sensor.
If the cavity under the diaphragm is
hermetically closed and the pressure in it is
P0, the sensor becomes a sealed gage
pressure sensor sensing the pressure P-P0.
A differential sensor is produced by placing
the diaphragm between two chambers, each
vented through a port (figure).

Differential pressure sensor

Piezoresistive pressure sensors

A different approach is to use a

single strain gauge
A current passing through the
strain gauge
Pressure applied perpendicular to
the current.
The voltage across the element is
measured as an indication of the
stress and therefore pressure.


Many variations
Body of sensor is particularly important
Silicon, steel, stainless steel and titanium
are most commonly used
Ports are made with various fittings
The contact material is specified (gas,
fluid, corrosivity, etc.)

Various pressure sensors

Miniature pressure sensors

Pitran pressure sensors


150 psi differential pressure


100 psi absolute pressure

sensor (TO5 can)

15 and 30 psi differential

pressure sensors

Capacitive pressure sensors

The deflection of the diaphragm constitutes a

capacitor in which the distance between the plates
is pressure sensitive.
The basic structure shown in Figure 6.16 may be
used or a similar configuration devised.
These sensors are very simple and are particularly
useful for sensing of very low pressure.
At low pressure, the deflection of the diaphragm
may be insufficient to cause large strain but can be
relatively large in terms of capacitance.

Capacitive pressure sensors

The capacitance may be part of an oscillator,

The change in its frequency may be quite large making for a
very sensitive sensor.
Other advantages

less temperature dependent

stops on motion of the plate may be incorporated, - not sensitive to

Overpressures of 2-3 orders of magnitude larger than rated

pressure may be easily tolerated without ill effects.
The sensors are linear for small displacement but at larger
pressures the diaphragm tends to bow causing nonlinear

Magnetic pressure sensors

A number of methods are used

In large deflection sensors an inductive position
sensor may be used or an LVDT attached to the
For low pressures, variable reluctance pressure
sensor is more practical.
The diaphragm is made of a ferromagnetic
material and is part of the magnetic circuit
shown in Figure 6.32.

Variable reluctance pressure


Magnetic pressure sensors

The reluctance is directly proportional to the length of the

air gap between the diaphragm and the E-core.
Gap changes with pressure and the inductance of the
two coils changes and sensed directly.
A very small deflection can cause a very large change in
inductance of the circuit making this a very sensitive
Magnetic sensors are almost devoid of temperature
sensitivity allowing these sensors to operate at elevated

Other pressure sensors

Optoelectronic pressure sensors - Fabri-Perot

optical resonator to measure small displacements.

light reflected from a resonant optical cavity is

measured by a photodiode to produce a measure of
pressure sensed.

A very old method of sensing low pressures (often

called vacuum sensors) is the Pirani gauge.

based on measuring the heat loss from gases which is

dependent on pressure. The temperature is sensed and
correlated to pressure, usually in an absolute pressure
sensor arrangement.

Pressure sensors - properties

Semiconductor based sensors can only operate at

low temperatures (50 to +150C).
Temperature dependent errors can be high unless
properly compensated (externally or internally).
The range of sensors can exceed 50,000 psi and
can be as small as a fraction of psi.
Impedance is anywhere between a few hundred
Ohms to about 100 k, depending on device.
Linearity is between 0.1 to 2% typically

Pressure sensors - properties

Other speciffications include:

Maximum pressure, burst pressure and proof pressure

electrical output - either direct (no internal circuitry) or after
conditioning and amplification.
Digital outputs are also available.
Materials used (silicon, stainless steel, etc.) and compatibility
with gases and liquids are specified
port sizes and shapes, connectors, venting ports
cycling of the pressure sensors is also specified
hysteresis (usually below 0.1% of full scale)
repeatability (typically less than 0.1% of full scale).


Gyroscopes come to mind usually as stabilizing

devices in aircraft and spacecraft in such
applications as automatic pilots.
Are much more than that and much more common
than one can imagine.
The gyroscope is a navigational tool. Its purpose is
to keep the direction of a device or vehicle.
Used in all satellites, in smart weapons and in all
other applications that require attitude and position


Eventually will find their ways into consumer

products such as cars.
They have already found their ways into toys.
The basic principle involved is the principle of
conservation of angular momentum :
In any system of bodies or particles, the
total angular momentum relative to any point
in space is constant, provided no external
forces act on the system

Mechanical Gyroscopes

Best known of the existing gyros and the easiest to

Consists of a rotating mass (heavy wheel) on an
axis in a frame - provides the angular momentum
If one tries to change the direction of the axis, by
applying a torque to it, a torque is developed in
directions perpendicular to the axis of rotation
This forces a precession motion.
This precession is the output of the gyroscope and
is proportional to the torque applied to its frame.

Mechanical (rotor) gyroscope

Mechanical Gyroscopes

A torque is applied to the frame of the gyro around the

input axis,
The output axis will rotate as shown in a motion called
This precession now becomes a measure of the applied
torque and can be used as an output to, for example,
correct the direction of an airplane or the position of a
satellite antenna.
Application of torque in the opposite direction reverses
the direction of precession.

Mechanical Gyroscopes

The relation between applied torque and the angular

velocity of precession is:




Mechanical Gyroscopes

Two or three axes gyroscope are built by

duplicating this structure with rotation axes
perpendicular to each other.
This type of gyroscope has been used for many
decades in aircraft but:
it is a fairly large, heavy and complex
not easily adapted to small systems.
It also has other problems, associated with the
spinning mass (bearings, friction, balancing, etc.)
Other devices have been developed

Coriolis force gyroscopes

Coriolis acceleration has been used to devise

much smaller and more cost effective gyroscopic
Built in silicon by standard etching methods
The rotating mass is replaced by a vibrating body
The coriolis acceleration is used for sensing.
The idea is based on the fact that if a body
moves linearly in a rotating frame of reference,
an acceleration appears at right angles to both
motions as shown in Figure 6.34.

Coriolis acceleration

Coriolis force gyroscopes

Linear motion is supplied by the vibration of a mass,

usually a harmonic motion.
Under normal conditions, the coriolis acceleration is
zero and the force associated with it is zero
If the sensor is rotated in the plane perpendicular to
the linear vibration, an acceleration is obtained,
proportional to the angular velocity .
An example of a coriolis based gyroscope is shown next:

Coriolis based gyroscope

Coriolis force gyroscopes

Two gimbals - one is driven into oscillations by a torque on one of the

gimbals (right hand side).
Can be done mechanically by electromagnetic or electrostatic actuators
The device is usually made in silicon- electrostatic forces are sufficient
This torque sets the gyro element (an inertial mass) into oscillation at
the drive frequency.
If now an angular velocity exists, the flexural element (central square
piece) will oscillate at the same frequency as the input axis.
This motion is sensed by two pairs of electrodes making up a capacitor
one on the flexural plate, one on the outer body.
The differential capacitance is then a measure of the angular velocity
since the amplitude is proportional to the angular velocity (the frequency
is fixed).
Usually the vibration is resonant to maximize efficiency.

Optical Gyroscopes

One of the more exciting developments in

Has no moving members.
Used extensively for guidance and control
Based on the Segnac effect.
The Segnac effect is based on
propagation of light in optical fibers and
can be explained using Figure 6.36.

The Sagnac effect

Sagnac effect

The ring is at rest and two laser beams travel the

length of the ring, in opposite directions.
The time it takes either beam to travel the length
of the ring is t=2R/nc where n is the index of
refraction of the optical fiber and c is the speed of
light in the fiber.
Suppose that the ring rotates clockwise at an
angular velocity .
The CW beam will travel a distance 2R +Rt
and the CCW beam a distance 2R Rt.

Sagnac effect

The difference between the two paths is:




Resonant fiber optic gyroscope

A resonator is any device which has a

dimension equal to multiple half
wavelengths of the wave.
A ring is built as follows:

Resonant fiber optic ring


Light is coupled through the light coupler (beam splitter).

At resonance, which depends on the circumference of
the ring, maximum power is coupled into the ring and
minimum power is available at the detector.
The incoming beam frequency is tuned to do just that.
If the ring rotates at an angular velocity , the light
beams in the ring change in frequency (wavelength) to
compensate for the change in apparent length of the

Resonant fiber optic ring


The relation between frequency, wavelength and length is:




f ' =


Coil optical fiber gyroscope

The resonator is replaced by a coiled optical

Fed from a polarized light source through a
beam splitter to ensure equal intensity and
phase (the phase modulator adjusts for any
variations in phase between the two beams).

Coil optical fiber gyroscope

The beams propagate in opposite

When returning to the detector, they are at
the same phase in the absence of rotation.
If rotation exists, the beams will induce a
phase difference at the detector which is
dependent of the angular frequency .

Coil optical fiber gyroscope

Optical gyroscopes are not cheap

But they are orders of magnitude cheaper than the
spinning mass gyroscope and much smaller and lighter.
Have a very large dynamic range (as high as 10000) and
so they can be used for sensing angular frequency over
a large span.
Optical fiber gyroscopes are immune to electromagnetic
fields as well as to radiation and hence can be used in
very hostile environments including space