Sensors

Glossary

Modern mobile phones come with a variety of sensors that automate or easy many of our daily tasks. This field takes into account the presence of an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a compass, and a barometer.

Accelerometer and gyroscope

Accelerometers in mobile phones are used to detect the orientation of the phone. The gyroscope, or gyro for short, adds an additional dimension to the information supplied by the accelerometer by tracking rotation or twist.

An accelerometer measures linear acceleration of movement, while a gyro on the other hand measures the angular rotational velocity. Both sensors measure rate of change; they just measure the rate of change for different things.

In practice, that means that an accelerometer will measure the directional movement of a device but will not be able to resolve its lateral orientation or tilt during that movement accurately unless a gyro is there to fill in that info.

With an accelerometer you can either get a really "noisy" info output that is responsive, or you can get a "clean" output that's sluggish. But when you combine the 3-axis accelerometer with a 3-axis gyro, you get an output that is both clean and responsive in the same time."

Digital compass

The digital compass that's usually based on a sensor called magnetometer provides mobile phones with a simple orientation in relation to the Earth's magnetic field. As a result, your phone always knows which way is North so it can auto rotate your digital maps depending on your physical orientation.

Barometer

And finally, you may see a device sporting a barometer in its specs sheet. Contrary to what you may suggest, it has nothing to do with weather. Instead, the barometer is there to help the GPS chip inside the device get a faster lock by instantly delivering altitude data.

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