If you visited this blog before you might know that I built myself an IMU sensor last year and that I wrote a filter to utilize this sensor to the max. It seems that if you want an IMU there is an easy way.  You can buy one from Dexter Industries.  As a matter of fact, they gave me one to evaluate. And so I did. I will present my findings in this post.

An IMU consists of a rate sensor, more often called a gyro sensor, and an accelerometer. IMU’s are mainly used to determine  position and attitude of a robot. However, an IMU cannot measure this right away, instead it measures movement. The gyro measures rotational movement, the speed at which the sensor turns. The accelerometer measures acceleration, the change in speed of the sensor. These measurements can be integrated to give position and attitude. However, integration is a tricky process, small errors in the measurements build up to large errors over time. Therefore it is very important that the sensors provide data of good quality.

The Dexter Industries IMU, or dIMU, has a three axis gyroscope (L3G4200D) that includes a temperature sensor. It also has a three axis accelerometer (MMA7455L). The sensors are digital sensors and addressed with the I2C protocol. They allow fast I2C, so if you have an environment that supports high I2C speeds like RobotC, LejoS or NXC, you can query this sensor at very short time intervals (>100Hz). There is a bright blue LED on the sensor that is Dexter Industries trademark. Some parts of the sensor board, including the LED get warm, this makes the temperature sensor useless. The components on the board are not covered. This gives the sensor a high tech look, but you should take care not to damage the components. The gyro and accelerometer are not aligned, the X-axis on the Gyroscope corresponds with the Y-Axis on the accelerometer. One should compensate for this in the software.

Below are the results of some tests I did with the sensor. I compared the sensor to others that I have. I will focus on the gyro first.

The gyro I compared to 2 other gyro’s, the analaogue gyro from HiTechnic and the digital gyro (ITG3200) from my custom build IMU (cIMU). The highTechnic gyro is an analogue one, it measures one axis only. he analogue signal from this sensor has to be translated to a digital signal by the NXT brick. This limits the resolution of this sensor to 1023 raw values or 1 degree a second. The maximum dynamic range of this sensor is about 600 degrees a second. The Dexter Industries Gyro has a resolution of  9 to 70 milldegrees a second and a dynamic range of 250 to 2000 degrees a second. Range and resolution are user selectable, where a higher dynamic range gives a lower resolution. The dynamic range of the ITG3200 form my IMU is 2000 gedrees a second with a resolution of 70 millidegrees a second, comparable to the DI gyro.

Gyro’s have an offset, this is the value they return when being motionless. One has to correct gyro readings with the offset to get the true rate of turn.  The problem with offset is that it changes over time or under different circumstances. Also, sensor signals are noisy, so it is not easy to determine a good offset value.  (see a previous post from me for details).  A faulty offset value or a change in offset over time results in faulty readings. Therefore the first test I performed was to see how stable the offset of the different gyro’s is. Below is a graph of the three gyro’s while being motionless. A perfect gyro would return 0 all the time. But perfect gyro’s do not exist, there is always some noise in the signal, that’s why the lines are not straight. The noise of the HiTechnic gyro looks different than that of the other two. This is because the HiTechnig gyro signal is rounded of to degrees per second while the oher two have a finer resolution.  This makes it hard to compare this signal to the other two. The dIMU is more noisy than the cIMU.
After 60 seconds of continuous measurement one of the NXT motors was powered. This gives a drop in the HiTechnic gyro, it’s offset has changed as a result of powering the motor. It seems as if the gyro has started to rotate very slowly, but it hasn’t. Therefore you need to calibrate the gyro under circumstances comparible to those that the gyro will experience when running. Both digital gyro’s do not suffer from powering the motor. This is a strong argument in favour of digital gyro’s.

The second test looks at the quality of the integrated gyro signal. The integrated signal gives the angle of the sensor (in respect to the starting position).  This is a very important aspect of gyro’s as you will quite often use this quantity in your programs. Integration takes away some noise as this is averaged out. However errors in offset are not biased to zero and these errors will add up over time. Again the sensors were motionless, there is no change in angle so one would expect the lines to stay at zero. This time there are four lines in the graph. The, new, red line is also a signal from the HiTechnic gyro. But this time it’s signal is corrected for offset errors using some smart statistical methods. This functionality is part of Lejos.
The HiTechnic gyro without the dynamic offset correction performs worst in this test. The line quickly deviates from the x-axis and this goes even faster when the motor is started (and the offset changes). With the dynamic offset correction the sensor performs very well,it stays close to zero. However, the algorhythm cannot cope with the change in offset after starting the motor, the line then quickly drops.
My gyro gives a smooth line but the line also drops quite fast.  The smoothness of the line is due to the low noise level, the drop is caused by changes in offset. My gyro defenitly could benefit from a dynamic offset correction.
The gyro from Dexter Industries stays around the x-axis. This means it has a very low change in offset or an internal mechanism for offset correction However in this test this sensor performs clearly the best.

The next graph shows the effect of dynamic offset correction on the digital sensors. My sensor clearly benefits from this. It stays closest to zero of the three sensors. The dIMU does not benefit from dynamic offset correction. As a matter of fact, it’s performance is worse than without it. This makes me believe that there is some internal offset correction in this sensor that interferes with the software offset correction I added. I conclude that you do not want to use dynamic offset correction with this sensor.

This is all for this time. Next time I will dive deeper into the accelerometer of the dIMU. Again I will compare this one to two other accelerometers.