Inertial Navigation Systems: What Are They?

When engineering meets technology, the result is advanced devices such as Inertial Navigation Systems. Inertial navigation systems (INS) utilize gyroscopes and accelerometers to keep an estimate of a vehicle’s location, velocity, and attitude rates. In this case, the vehicle may be an aircraft, spacecraft, missile, surface ship, or submarine. The technology uses motion sensors and rotational sensors to tell the position, orientation, and velocity of a moving object without needing a base station.

Inertial Navigation Systems are installed in barometric altimeter or speed measuring devices ships, submarines, aircraft, spacecraft, and guided missiles. The device can derive the location or position with the help of at least three gyros and accelerometers. In addition, the INS can tell navigation in latitude, longitude, pitch, heave, sway, surge, and output heading.

The Systems We Have Today

Initially, the Inertial Navigation Systems did not provide the precise location; instead, the position was estimated relative to the starting point. However, with the advance in technology, the INS devices can now provide accurate location information using Inertial Measuring Unit (IMU). IMU measures movement in three rotational movements M (pitch (My), roll (Mx), and yaw (Mz)). In addition, the inertial measuring units also include three translational movements F (heave (Fz), surge (Fx), and sway (Fy)).

The sensors can work in extreme temperatures and under different pressure conditions and deliver quality results irrespective of the motion speed possible. Mobile devices also use the same sensors but with the requirement of electrical energy consumption. Sensors are now fit into even smaller gadgets which are likely due to their small size.

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Other alternative sensors have been developed based on the correct drift rate and reducing the position’s error. For instance, satellite navigation such as GPS in vehicles, indoor devices like pedometers, among other position sensors. With accurate information and technology, the errors in position and velocity are stable.

Linear accelerometers

Linear accelerometers measure direction on three axes X, Y, and Z, with each axis having a different linear accelerometer. The three axes are contained in a single chip and use capacity, magneto responsive, piezoresistant, piezoelectric based on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and Hall effect.


Most people’s experience with gyroscopes stems from playing with a string-operated gyroscope or top as a kid. However, gyroscopes are an incredibly ubiquitous aspect of people’s lives, having uses in transportation and even consumer electronics. Modern gyroscopes are divided into three types: mechanical gyroscopes, gas-bearing gyroscopes, and optical gyroscopes. Mechanical and gas-bearing gyroscopes detect movement using the concept of conservation of angular momentum, but others utilize other principles.