How Do IMU Devices Help Navigation?

a navigation app

There is an inherent demand for independent systems, especially when it comes to technology. Automation being a less than ideal substitute for human oversight has pushed the development of systems and machines that are more sophisticated than ever, and can even surpass human capabilities and avoid machine malfunction at the same time.

One of these technologies that have gone relatively under the radar (yet is one of the most essential parts of developing technology today) is the IMU or Inertial Measurement Unit. Mainly used for inertial simulation for navigational requirements, these small devices are among the cornerstones of any technologically advanced system used for travel.

Tracking a moving object

The purpose of IMU’s are simple: They track a moving body’s position and orientation at any given time, independent of any outside measuring device. Specifically, IMU devices measure the six degrees of freedom any object has when moving through space:

  • Forward and backward
  • Up and down
  • Left and right
  • Tilting side to side
  • Tilting forward and backward
  • Turning left to right

IMU devices use a series of accelerometers and gyroscopes to determine what values these six conditions have, and feed that device to whichever unit needs the data to track its own location.

Why choose IMU devices

The biggest advantage that IMU devices have is their ability to operate independently; that is without any input from an external device or being fed readings from outside monitors. This independence that the IMU has makes it a special instrument that is critical to many types of vehicles.

It is advisable to remember that IMUs are still prone to error, as their systems compute the position of the device based on the last known position. This makes accumulated errors very possible and may “drift” the vehicle/device position a little way off its actual position. Using IMUs in tandem with positional tracking devices will correct this error.

Uses of the IMU

Ships are the greatest users of IMU devices. Small-to-large vessels will often carry a series of IMU devices with them aside from their usual measuring instruments, as the rigors of travel cannot always guarantee the consistent function of other devices.

Especially after the integration of IoT (Internet of Things) systems in most vehicles and technology, IMUs have remained a reliable standard in finding critical information when it is needed. External cameras may fail and GPS systems can malfunction, but an accurately calibrated IMU unit can compensate for these errors, at least until human intervention is required.


people using their gadgets

Vehicles are the most common users of IMU devices, as they are easy to install, maintain, and replace on ship systems. Aside from being a reliable backup to the ships’ and airplanes’ internal navigation systems, IMU devices consume minimal power and are useful backups when the normal electronics of the vehicle fail.

While far from being the last word in navigational systems, an ideal navigation system will always include at least one IMU device. Especially when used in combination with more advanced versions of tracking devices, such as GPS and positional tracking systems, IMUs guide any navigator.