History of the Gyroscope

A gyroscope is a device for measuring or maintaining orientation, based on the principles of angular momentum. In essence, a mechanical gyroscope is a spinning wheel or disk whose axle is free to take any orientation.

The earliest known gyroscope-like instrument was made by German Johann Bohnenberger, who first wrote about it in 1817. At first he called it the “Machine”. Bohnenberger’s machine was based on a rotating massive sphere. In 1832, American Walter R. Johnson developed a similar device that was based on a rotating disk. The French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace, working at the École Polytechnique in Paris, recommended the machine for use as a teaching aid, and thus it came to the attention of Léon Foucault. In 1852, Foucault used it in an experiment involving the rotation of the Earth. It was Foucault who gave the device its modern name, in an experiment to see (Greekskopeein, to see) the Earth’s rotation (Greek gyros, circle or rotation), which was visible in the 8 to 10 minutes before friction slowed the spinning rotor.

In the 1860s, the advent of electric motors made it possible for a gyroscope to spin indefinitely; this led to the first prototype gyrocompasses. The first functional marine gyrocompass was patented in 1904 by German inventor Hermann Anschütz-Kaempfe. The American Elmer Sperry followed with his own design later that year, and other nations soon realized the military importance of the invention—in an age in which naval prowess was the most significant measure of military power—and created their own gyroscope industries.

The Sperry Gyroscope Company quickly expanded to provide aircraft and naval stabilizers as well, and other gyroscope developers followed suit. In 1917, the Chandler Company of Indianapolis, created the “Chandler gyroscope”, a toy gyroscope with a pull string and pedestal. Chandler continued to produce the toy until the company was purchased by TEDCO inc. in 1982. The chandler toy is still produced by TEDCO today.

In the first several decades of the 20th century, other inventors attempted (unsuccessfully) to use gyroscopes as the basis for early black boxnavigational systems by creating a stable platform from which accurate acceleration measurements could be performed (in order to bypass the need for star sightings to calculate position). Similar principles were later employed in the development of inertial guidance systems forballistic missiles.

During World War II, the gyroscope became the prime component for aircraft and anti-aircraft gun sights. After the war, the race to miniaturize gyroscopes for guided missiles and weapons navigation systems resulted in the development and manufacturing of so called midget gyroscopes that weighed less than 3 ounces (85 g) and had a diameter of approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm). Some of these miniaturize gyroscopes could be spun up to 24,000 revolutions per minute in less than 10 seconds.

3-axis MEMS-based gyroscopes are also being used in portable electronic devices such as Apple’s current generation of iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. This adds to the 3-axis acceleration sensing ability available on previous generations of devices. Together these sensors provide 6 component motion sensing; acceleration for X,Y, and Z movement, and gyroscopes for measuring the extent and rate of rotation in space (roll, pitch and yaw). Via Gyroscope


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