An accelerometer is a device that measures proper acceleration. The proper acceleration measured by an accelerometer is not necessarily the coordinate acceleration (rate of change of velocity). Instead, the accelerometer sees the acceleration associated with the phenomenon of weight experienced by any test mass at rest in the frame of reference of the accelerometer device. For example, an accelerometer at rest on the surface of the earth will measure an acceleration g= 9.81 m/s2 straight upwards, due to its weight. By contrast, accelerometers in free fall or at rest in outer space will measure zero. Another term for the type of acceleration that accelerometers can measure is g-force acceleration.
Accelerometers have multiple applications in industry and science. Highly sensitive accelerometers are components of inertial navigation systems for aircraft and missiles. Accelerometers are used to detect and monitor vibration in rotating machinery. Accelerometers are used in tablet computers and digital cameras so that images on screens are always displayed upright.
Single- and multi-axis models of accelerometer are available to detect magnitude and direction of the proper acceleration (or g-force), as a vector quantity, and can be used to sense orientation (because direction of weight changes), coordinate acceleration (so long as it produces g-force or a change in g-force), vibration, shock, and falling in a resistive medium (a case where the proper acceleration changes, since it starts at zero, then increases). Micromachined accelerometers are increasingly present in portable electronic devices and video game controllers, to detect the position of the device or provide for game input.
Pairs of accelerometers extended over a region of space can be used to detect differences (gradients) in the proper accelerations of frames of references associated with those points. These devices are called gravity gradiometers, as they measure gradients in the gravitational field. Such pairs of accelerometers in theory may also be able to detect gravitational waves.
Physical principles 
An accelerometer measures proper acceleration, which is the acceleration it experiences relative to freefall and is the acceleration felt by people and objects. Put another way, at any point in spacetime the equivalence principle guarantees the existence of a local inertial frame, and an accelerometer measures the acceleration relative to that frame. Such accelerations are popularly measured in terms of g-force.
An accelerometer at rest relative to the Earth's surface will indicate approximately 1 g upwards, because any point on the Earth's surface is accelerating upwards relative to the local inertial frame (the frame of a freely falling object near the surface). To obtain the acceleration due to motion with respect to the Earth, this "gravity offset" must be subtracted and corrections made for effects caused by the Earth's rotation relative to the inertial frame.
The reason for the appearance of a gravitational offset is Einstein's equivalence principle, which states that the effects of gravity on an object are indistinguishable from acceleration. When held fixed in a gravitational field by, for example, applying a ground reaction force or an equivalent upward thrust, the reference frame for an accelerometer (its own casing) accelerates upwards with respect to a free-falling reference frame. The effects of this acceleration are indistinguishable from any other acceleration experienced by the instrument, so that an accelerometer cannot detect the difference between sitting in a rocket on the launch pad, and being in the same rocket in deep space while it uses its engines to accelerate at 1 g. For similar reasons, an accelerometer will read zero during any type of free fall. This includes use in a coasting spaceship in deep space far from any mass, a spaceship orbiting the Earth, an airplane in a parabolic "zero-g" arc, or any free-fall in vacuum. Another example is free-fall at a sufficiently high altitude that atmospheric effects can be neglected.
However this does not include a (non-free) fall in which air resistance produces drag forces that reduce the acceleration, until constant terminal velocity is reached. At terminal velocity the accelerometer will indicate 1 g acceleration upwards. For the same reason a skydiver, upon reaching terminal velocity, does not feel as though he or she were in "free-fall", but rather experiences a feeling similar to being supported (at 1 g) on a "bed" of uprushing air.
For the practical purpose of finding the acceleration of objects with respect to the Earth, such as for use in an inertial navigation system, a knowledge of local gravity is required. This can be obtained either by calibrating the device at rest, or from a known model of gravity at the approximate current position.
Conceptually, an accelerometer behaves as a damped mass on a spring. When the accelerometer experiences an acceleration, the mass is displaced to the point that the spring is able to accelerate the mass at the same rate as the casing. The displacement is then measured to give the acceleration.
In commercial devices, piezoelectric, piezoresistive and capacitive components are commonly used to convert the mechanical motion into an electrical signal. Piezoelectric accelerometers rely on piezoceramics (e.g. lead zirconate titanate) or single crystals (e.g. quartz, tourmaline). They are unmatched in terms of their upper frequency range, low packaged weight and high temperature range. Piezoresistive accelerometers are preferred in high shock applications. Capacitive accelerometers typically use a silicon micro-machined sensing element. Their performance is superior in the low frequency range and they can be operated in servo mode to achieve high stability and linearity.
Modern accelerometers are often small micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), and are indeed the simplest MEMS devices possible, consisting of little more than a cantilever beam with a proof mass (also known as seismic mass). Damping results from the residual gas sealed in the device. As long as the Q-factor is not too low, damping does not result in a lower sensitivity.
Under the influence of external accelerations the proof mass deflects from its neutral position. This deflection is measured in an analog or digital manner. Most commonly, the capacitance between a set of fixed beams and a set of beams attached to the proof mass is measured. This method is simple, reliable, and inexpensive. Integrating piezoresistors in the springs to detect spring deformation, and thus deflection, is a good alternative, although a few more process steps are needed during the fabrication sequence. For very high sensitivities quantum tunneling is also used; this requires a dedicated process making it very expensive. Optical measurement has been demonstrated on laboratory scale.
Another, far less common, type of MEMS-based accelerometer contains a small heater at the bottom of a very small dome, which heats the air inside the dome to cause it to rise. A thermocouple on the dome determines where the heated air reaches the dome and the deflection off the center is a measure of the acceleration applied to the sensor.
Most micromechanical accelerometers operate in-plane, that is, they are designed to be sensitive only to a direction in the plane of the die. By integrating two devices perpendicularly on a single die a two-axis accelerometer can be made. By adding an additional out-of-plane device three axes can be measured. Such a combination may have much lower misalignment error than three discrete models combined after packaging.
Micromechanical accelerometers are available in a wide variety of measuring ranges, reaching up to thousands of g's. The designer must make a compromise between sensitivity and the maximum acceleration that can be measured.
Accelerometers can be used to measure vehicle acceleration. They allow for evaluation of overall vehicle performance and response. This information can then be used to make adjustments to various vehicle subsystems as needed.
Accelerometers can be used to measure vibration on cars, machines, buildings, process control systems and safety installations. They can also be used to measure seismic activity, inclination, machine vibration, dynamic distance and speed with or without the influence of gravity. Applications for accelerometers that measure gravity, wherein an accelerometer is specifically configured for use in gravimetry, are called gravimeters.
Accelerometers are also increasingly used in the biological sciences. High frequency recordings of bi-axial or tri-axial acceleration (>10 Hz) allows the discrimination of behavioral patterns while animals are out of sight. Furthermore, recordings of acceleration allow researchers to quantify the rate at which an animal is expending energy in the wild, by either determination of limb-stroke frequency or measures such as overall dynamic body acceleration Such approaches have mostly been adopted by marine scientists due to an inability to study animals in the wild using visual observations, however an increasing number of terrestrial biologists are adopting similar approaches. This device can be connected to an amplifier to amplify the signal.
Accelerometers are also used for machinery health monitoring to report the vibration and its changes in time of shafts at the bearings of rotating equipment such as turbines, pumps, fans, rollers, compressors, and cooling towers. Vibration monitoring programs are proven to warn of impending failure, save money, reduce downtime, and improve safety in plants worldwide by detecting conditions such as wear and tear of bearings, shaft misalignment, rotor imbalance, gear failure or bearing fault which, if not attended to promptly, can lead to costly repairs. Accelerometer vibration data allows the user to monitor machines and detect these faults before the rotating equipment fails completely. Vibration monitoring programs are utilized in industries such as automotive manufacturing, machine tool applications, pharmaceutical production, power generation and power plants, pulp and paper, sugar mills, food and beverage production, water and wastewater, hydropower, petrochemical and steel manufacturing.
Building and structural monitoring 
Accelerometers are used to measure the motion and vibration of a structure that is exposed to dynamic loads. Dynamic loads originate from a variety of sources including:
- Human activities – walking, running, dancing or skipping
- Working machines – inside a building or in the surrounding area
- Construction work – driving piles, demolition, drilling and excavating
- Moving loads on bridges
- Vehicle collisions
- Impact loads – falling debris
- Concussion loads – internal and external explosions
- Collapse of structural elements
- Wind loads and wind gusts
- Air blast pressure
- Loss of support because of ground failure
- Earthquakes and aftershocks
Measuring and recording how a structure responds to these inputs is critical for assessing the safety and viability of a structure. This type of monitoring is called Dynamic Monitoring.
Medical applications 
Zoll's AED Plus uses CPR-D•padz which contain an accelerometer to measure the depth of CPR chest compressions.
Within the last several years, Nike, Polar and other companies have produced and marketed sports watches for runners that include footpods, containing accelerometers to help determine the speed and distance for the runner wearing the unit.
In Belgium, accelerometer-based step counters are promoted by the government to encourage people to walk a few thousand steps each day.
An Inertial Navigation System (INS) is a navigation aid that uses a computer and motion sensors (accelerometers) to continuously calculate via dead reckoning the position, orientation, and velocity (direction and speed of movement) of a moving object without the need for external references. Other terms used to refer to inertial navigation systems or closely related devices include inertial guidance system, inertial reference platform, and many other variations.
An accelerometer alone is unsuitable to determine changes in altitude over distances where the vertical decrease of gravity is significant, such as for aircraft and rockets. In the presence of a gravitational gradient, the calibration and data reduction process is numerically unstable.
One of the most common uses for MEMS accelerometers is in airbag deployment systems for modern automobiles. In this case the accelerometers are used to detect the rapid negative acceleration of the vehicle to determine when a collision has occurred and the severity of the collision. Another common automotive use is in electronic stability control systems, which use a lateral accelerometer to measure cornering forces. The widespread use of accelerometers in the automotive industry has pushed their cost down dramatically. Another automotive application is the monitoring of noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), conditions that cause discomfort for drivers and passengers and may also be indicators of mechanical faults.
Consumer electronics 
Accelerometers are increasingly being incorporated into personal electronic devices to detect the orientation of the device, for example, a display screen.
A free-fall sensor is an accelerometer used to detect if a system has been dropped and is falling. It can then apply safety measures such as parking the head of a hard disk to prevent a head crash and resulting data loss upon impact. This device is included in the many common computer and consumer electronic products that are produced by a variety of manufacturers. It is also used in some data loggers to monitor handling operations for shipping containers. The length of time in free fall is used to calculate the height of drop and to estimate the shock to the package.
Motion input 
Some smartphones, digital audio players and personal digital assistants contain accelerometers for user interface control; often the accelerometer is used to present landscape or portrait views of the device's screen, based on the way the device is being held. The 5th and 6th generation Apple iPod Nano has a built-in accelerometer in a Fitness app that can be used to record walking steps and runs. Apple sells an accelerometer app that runs on the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, 3rd and 4th generation iPod Touch, and iPad.
Automatic Collision Notification (ACN) systems also use accelerometers in a system to call for help in event of a vehicle crash. Prominent ACN systems include OnStar AACN service, Ford Link's 911 Assist, Toyota's Safety Connect, Lexus Link, or BMW Assist. Many accelerometer-equipped smartphones also have ACN software available for download. ACN systems are activated by detecting crash-strength G-forces.
Accelerometers are used in vehicle Electronic stability control systems to measure the vehicle's actual movement. A computer compares the vehicle's actual movement to the driver's steering and throttle input. The stability control computer can selectively brake individual wheels and/or reduce engine power to minimize the difference between driver input and the vehicle's actual movement. This can help prevent the vehicle from spinning or rolling over.
Some pedometers use an accelerometer to more accurately measure the number of steps taken and distance traveled than a mechanical sensor can provide.
Nintendo's Wii video game console uses a controller called a Wii Remote that contains a three-axis accelerometer and was designed primarily for motion input. Users also have the option of buying an additional motion-sensitive attachment, the Nunchuk, so that motion input could be recorded from both of the user's hands independently. Is also used on the Nintendo 3DS system.
The Nokia 5500 sport features a 3D accelerometer that can be accessed from software. It is used for step recognition (counting) in a sport application, and for tap gesture recognition in the user interface. Tap gestures can be used for controlling the music player and the sport application, for example to change to next song by tapping through clothing when the device is in a pocket. Other uses for accelerometer in Nokia phones include Pedometer functionality in Nokia Sports Tracker. Some other devices provide the tilt sensing feature with a cheaper component, which is not a true accelerometer.
Sleep phase alarm clocks use accelerometric sensors to detect movement of a sleeper, so that it can wake the person when he/she is not in REM phase, in order to awaken the person more easily.
Orientation sensing 
A number of 21st century devices use accelerometers to align the screen depending on the direction the device is held, for example switching between portrait and landscape modes. Such devices include many tablet PCs and some smartphones and digital cameras.
For example, Apple uses an LIS302DL accelerometer in the iPhone, iPod Touch and the 4th and 5th generation iPod Nano allowing the device to know when it is tilted on its side. Third-party developers have expanded its use with fanciful applications such as electronic bobbleheads. The BlackBerry Storm phone was also an early user of this orientation sensing feature. The Amida Simputer, a handheld Linux device launched in 2004, was the first commercial handheld to have a built-in accelerometer. It had incorporated many gesture based interactions using this accelerometer, including page-turning, zoom-in and zoom-out of images, change of portrait to landscape mode and many simple gesture-based games. The Nokia N95 and Nokia N82 have accelerometers embedded inside them. It was primarily used as a tilt sensor for tagging the orientation to photos taken with the built-in camera and later became available to other applications through a firmware update.
As of January 2009, almost all new mobile phones and digital cameras contain at least a tilt sensor and sometimes an accelerometer for the purpose of auto image rotation, motion-sensitive mini-games, and to correct shake when taking photographs.
Image stabilization 
Camcorders use accelerometers for image stabilization. Still cameras use accelerometers for anti-blur capturing. The camera holds off capturing the image when the camera is moving. When the camera is still (if only for a millisecond, as could be the case for vibration), the image is captured. An example of the application of this technology is the Glogger VS2, a phone application which runs on Symbian based phones with accelerometers such as the Nokia N96. Some digital cameras contain accelerometers to determine the orientation of the photo being taken and also for rotating the current picture when viewing.
Device integrity 
Many laptops feature an accelerometer which is used to detect drops. If a drop is detected, the heads of the hard disk are parked to avoid data loss and possible head or disk damage by the ensuing shock.
A gravimeter or gravitometer, is an instrument used in gravimetry for measuring the local gravitational field. A gravimeter is a type of accelerometer, except that accelerometers are susceptible to all vibrations including noise, that cause oscillatory accelerations. This is counteracted in the gravimeter by integral vibration isolation and signal processing. Though the essential principle of design is the same as in accelerometers, gravimeters are typically designed to be much more sensitive than accelerometers in order to measure very tiny changes within the Earth's gravity, of 1 g. In contrast, other accelerometers are often designed to measure 1000 g or more, and many perform multi-axial measurements. The constraints on temporal resolution are usually less for gravimeters, so that resolution can be increased by processing the output with a longer "time constant".
Types of accelerometer 
- Bulk micromachined capacitive
- Bulk micromachined piezoelectric resistive
- Capacitive spring mass base
- DC response
- Electromechanical servo (Servo Force Balance)
- High gravity
- High temperature
- Laser accelerometer
- Low frequency
- Magnetic induction
- Modally tuned impact hammers
- Pendulous integrating gyroscopic accelerometer (PIGA)
- Piezoelectric accelerometer
- Seat pad accelerometers
- Shear mode accelerometer
- Strain gauge
- Surface acoustic wave (SAW)
- Surface micromachined capacitive (MEMS)
- Thermal (submicrometre CMOS process)
- Vacuum diode with flexible anode
Usage Tutorials 
Common interfaces for commercially available accelerometers include analog interfaces, pulsewidth interfaces, and synchronous serial interfaces (SPI, I2C, etc.). Following are examples of each:
Analog interface accelerometers:
Analog Devices ADXL3xx, a series of 3-axis accelerometers with analog output. The ADXL3xx series comes in a range of sensitivities. This example shows how to interface the ADXL3XX to an Arduino microcontroller module.
Freescale MMA7260Q, a 3-axis accelerometer with analog output capable of measuring up to +/- 1.5g. This example shows how to interface the Memsic 2125 to an PIC microcontroller.
Freescale MMA7341L, a 3-axis accelerometer with analog output that has adjustable sensitivity (±3 g or ±11 g), and a 0g-detect digital output that signals when the board is in free-fall (±3 g sensitivity setting only). This product page has use instructions that show general use with a microcontroller.
Hitachi H48C, a 3-axis accelerometer with analog output capable of measuring +/-3g. This example shows how to interface th eH48C to an Arduino microcontroller.
This tutorial uses a LIS331AL 3 axis analog output accelerometer with a LPR550AL dual-axis pitch and roll [gyroscope] to create a 5 degree-of-freedom (DOF) Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) board :
Pulsewidth interface accelerometers:
Memsic2125, a 2-axis accelerometer with pulsewidth output capable of measuring up to +/- 2g. This example shows how to interface the Memsic 2125 to an Arduino microcontroller module. This other example shows how to interface the Memsic 2125 to a Basic Stamp 2 microcontroller module.
Analog Devices ADXL202, a combined pulsewidth output and analog output accelerometer capable of measuring up to +/- 2g. This example shows how to interface the ADXL202 to an Arduino microcontroller and a PIC microcontroller.
I2C (serial) interface accelerometer:
Analog Devices ADXL345, a 3-axis accelerometer capable of measuring up to +/- 16g. This accelerometer can also report peaks on each axis, in order to measure taps, drops, etc. This example shows how to interface an ADXL345 to an Arduino microcontroller. This example shows how to interface the ADXL345 to a Netduino microcontroller.
For guides on how to decide between the different interfaces and pros and cons of each, see the Accelerometer and Gyro buying guide.
See also 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Accelerometers|
- Inertial navigation
- Shock, Vibration & Acceleration Data Logger
- Einstein, Albert (1920). "20". Relativity: The Special and General Theory. New York: Henry Holt. p. 168. ISBN 1-58734-092-5.
- Penrose, Roger (2005) . "17.4 The Principle of Equivalence". The Road to Reality. New York: Knopf. pp. 393–394. ISBN 0-470-08578-9.
- "Accelerometer Design and Applications". Analog Devices. Archived from the original on 13 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-23.[dead link]
- "Quake-Catcher Network – Downloads". Quake-Catcher Network. Retrieved 15 July 2009. "If you have a Mac laptop (2006 or later), a Thinkpad (2003 or later), or a desktop with a USB sensor, you can download software to turn your computer into a Quake-Catcher Sensor"
- Yoda et al. (2001) Journal of Experimental Biology204(4): 685–690
- Shepard et al. (2008) Endangered Species Research http://www.int-res.com/articles/esr2008/theme/Tracking/TMVpp1.pdf
- Kawabe et al. (2003) Fisheries Science 69 (5):959 – 965
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- O. Sircovich Saar "Dynamics in the Practice of Structural Design" 2006 WIT Press ISBN 1-84564-161-2
- The Contender 3 Episode 1 SPARQ testing ESPN
- Welcome to GoHerman.com innovator of interactive personal training for fitness, – MARTIAL ARTS & MMA. Goherman.com. Retrieved on 17 October 2011.
- ''Vertical Speed Measurement'', by Ed Hahn in sci.aeronautics.airliners, 1996-11-22. Yarchive.net. Retrieved on 17 October 2011.
- US patent 6640165, Hayward, Kirk W. and Stephenson, Larry G., "Method and system of determining altitude of flying object", issued 2003-10-28
- Dual Deployment. Westrocketry.com. Retrieved on 17 October 2011.
- PICO altimeter. Picoalt.com. Retrieved on 17 October 2011.
- "Design of an integrated strapdown guidance and control system for a tactical missile" WILLIAMS, D. E.RICHMAN, J.FRIEDLAND, B. (Singer Co., Kearfott Div., Little Falls, NJ) AIAA-1983-2169 IN: Guidance and Control Conference, Gatlinburg, TN, August 15–17, 1983, Collection of Technical Papers (A83-41659 19–63). New York, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1983, p. 57-66.
- Tilting trains shorten transit time. Memagazine.org. Retrieved on 17 October 2011.
- USGS – volcano monitoring. Vulcan.wr.usgs.gov (18 May 1980). Retrieved on 17 October 2011.
- "iPod nano: Fitness. Meet your new personal trainer.". Apple Inc. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- "iTunes Preview: Accelerometer for iOS". Apple Inc. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- Fun with the iPhone accelerometer. Blog.medallia.com. Retrieved on 17 October 2011.
- Glogger. M.eyetap.org (17 February 2007). Retrieved on 17 October 2011.
- "Mullard: DDR100 Accelerometer Double Diode data sheet" (PDF). Retrieved 7 May 2013.
- "Arduino - ADXL3xx". Arduino.cc. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
- "Sensor Workshop at ITP :: Reports / MMA 7260 Q". Itp.nyu.edu. 2005-09-03. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
- "MMA7341L 3-Axis Accelerometer ±3/11g". Pololu. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
- "Sensor Workshop at ITP :: Reports / H 48 C". Itp.nyu.edu. 2012-03-01. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
- Author:Gadget Gangster(GadgetGangster.com) (2010-01-21). "Accelerometer & Gyro Tutorial". Instructables.com. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
- "Arduino - Memsic2125". Arduino.cc. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
- "Sensor Workshop at ITP :: Reports / ADXL 202 Accelerometer". Itp.nyu.edu. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
- "Tap, Tap, Drop. ADXL345 Accelerometer + Arduino". bildr. 2012-02-25. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
- "Accelerometer and Gyro Buying Guide - SparkFun Electronics". Sparkfun.com. 2010-07-12. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
||This article's use of external links may not follow Wikipedia's policies or guidelines. (August 2010)|
- Thinking About Accelerometers and Gravity by Dave Redell, LUNAR #322
- Practical Guide to Accelerometers
- How to Design an Accelerometer
- Different types of Accelerometer
- Considerations When Selecting an Accelerometer
- Introduction to Accelerometer Basics: Designs, Conditioning, and Mounting
- Database of acceleration data