Honeywell, with funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is creating the next generation of inertial sensor technology that will one day be used in both commercial and defence navigation applications. Recently, findings gathered in Honeywell labs have shown the new sensors to be greater than an order of magnitude more accurate than Honeywell’s HG1930 inertial measurement unit (IMU) product, a tactical-grade product with more than 150,000 units currently in use.
An IMU uses gyroscopes, accelerometers and electronics to give precise rotation and acceleration data to enable a vehicle system to calculate where it is, what direction it is going and at what speed, even when GPS signals aren’t available. There are various types of IMUs on the market and some – like the next-generation version currently under development – use sensors based on micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology to precisely measure motion.
“Typically, MEMS inertial sensors have been on the lower end of the performance scale, but this latest milestone shows we are changing that paradigm,” said Jenni Strabley, director of offering management for Inertial Sensors, Honeywell Aerospace. “With this next-generation MEMS technology, we’re increasing performance without having to significantly change the size or weight of the IMU. This is a game-changer for the navigation industry, where customers need highly accurate solutions but cannot afford to compromise on weight or size.”
Over the past few years, Honeywell has been working with DARPA to develop the next generation of high precision “navigation grade” IMU technology, under the Precise Robust Inertial Guidance for Munitions: Thermally Stabilized Inertial Guidance for Munitions (PRIGM TIGM) program. These new, higher performance MEMS sensors will use different sensor design and electronics to enable higher performance. They will serve a broad range of applications in autonomous land and air vehicles for both military and commercial customers, including future urban air mobility aircraft.
“Now that we have demonstrated that MEMS is capable of reaching these incredibly precise performance levels, it is the perfect time to start talking with potential users about how this technology could help their applications,” said Strabley. “We believe this new technology will have a variety of applications, such as onboard future vehicles that will fly in urban environments where lightweight, extremely precise navigation is critical to safer operations. Additionally, there are other applications that haven’t been invented yet but may be enabled by these types of technology innovations.”
Commercial sales of an IMU containing these next-generation sensors are still several years away, but one of the first products using this new technology is expected to be more than 50 times more accurate while roughly the same size as Honeywell’s HG1930 IMU.
Honeywell has long been a pioneer in MEMS-based IMUs, including the HG1930. Honeywell’s lineage in navigation dates to the 1920s and since then Honeywell has developed and manufactured high-performance navigation solutions found on many aircraft and other vehicles worldwide.
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