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World's Smallest Optical Gyroscope Developed for Navigation

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 04:07PM
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Gyroscopes are used in a variety of places for measuring movement, and without them many vehicles, like rockets and satellites, would not be able to guide their flights as necessary. Especially in those two examples, it is very important to keep size and weight down to a minimum, but accuracy also cannot be sacrificed. As published in The Optical Society's journal Optica, researchers have developed a new optical gyroscope that is the world's smallest, at just microns across.

Optical gyroscopes are not a new technology and operate very differently from the classic gyroscopes we have probably all encountered in school. Where those gyroscopes rely on Newton's laws, optical gyroscopes use the Sagnac effect, which describes a color shift when light splits and recombines as it exits a spinning system. The problem has been that both of the two basic designs, using either an optical cavity of optical fiber, have degraded performance as they are made smaller, so as much as six kilometers of optical fiber may be used. The researchers got around that though by changing what they were looking for. Instead of trying to sense a change in color, they instead watched for the small, but still measurable relativistic effect of rotating a light source bending spacetime. The resulting distortion can then be analyzed to determine the speed the cavity was rotating at.

By bringing the size down to potentially just 10 microns across, this new optical gyroscope design could be fit into a number of technologies, and integrated into optical circuit boards. More work needs to be done though, to take different optical modes into consideration and to enable measurements of full 3D movement.

Source: The Optical Society



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