This small, inexpensive and extremely precise gyroscope could revolutionize navigation

This little device could make the location of phones and self-driving cars much more accurate.

The new resonator and electrodes, on a quarter scale. The resonator is almost perfectly symmetrical, made of almost pure glass. This allows it to vibrate for long periods of time, similar to the ringing of a wine glass. Image credits: Najafi Group, University of Michigan.

When you use Google Maps (or any other mapping service), it not only shows you the route to take, it also shows the direction you are pointing your phone. Most smart devices, from phones to modern cars, have some type of gyroscope inside that allows them to do this, helping the device (and the user) know which direction it is facing. But these gyroscopes are very poor quality. If you were following the gyroscope on your own, you would get lost in no time.

This is why most devices are so dependent on GPS, but the accuracy of GPS is also reduced to a few meters. So if we want to improve the geographic tracking of these devices, the gyroscope is a good place to start.

“High performance gyroscopes are a bottleneck and have been for a long time. This gyroscope can remove this bottleneck by enabling the use of high-precision, low-cost inertial navigation in most autonomous vehicles, ”said Jae Yoong Cho, assistant researcher in electrical and computer engineering.

The device that allows navigation without a coherent orientation signal is called an inertial measurement unit. The unit is made up of three accelerometers and three gyroscopes, one for each axis in space – X, Y, and Z. The key to making a small, inexpensive gyroscope is a nearly symmetrical mechanical resonator. The quality of the resonator depends on the quality of the material.

The problem is that using better materials is prohibitively expensive. In a new study, researchers have presented a new way to make extremely precise gyroscopes, while keeping prices low.

“Our gyroscope is 10,000 times more precise but only 10 times more expensive than the gyroscopes used in your typical cell phones. This gyroscope is 1,000 times cheaper than much larger gyroscopes with similar performance, ”said Khalil Najafi, Schlumberger professor of engineering at UM and professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

Najafi’s team built a resonator from almost perfect sheets of pure glass called fused silica – only a quarter of a millimeter thick, so the researchers had to use a special torch to heat it up and then melt it in the desired shape.

“Basically, the glass resonator vibrates according to a certain pattern. If you suddenly rotate it, the vibrating pattern wants to stay in its original orientation. Thus, by monitoring the vibration model, it is possible to directly measure the rate and angle of rotation, ”said Sajal Singh, doctoral student and co-author.

It remains to be seen how much this chip can be made and how long it will take to implement it in other technologies.

Lee J. Murillo

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