#WishIknew – How does an accelerometer work?


When you have a question about process automation that needs a short answer, let us know with #WishIknew and @Visaya! We’ll reply with a #WishIknew post. It’ll give a quick explanation, then some related articles, videos, or reviews if you want to know more.

I wish I knew how an accelerometer works!

If you’ve never seen one, it just looks like a chip you’d find in any computer. But this chip reads mechanical force instead of electronic data. The two most popular types use piezoelectric and capacitive sensors, so I’ll tell you how those work.

The piezoelectric has teeny crystals that react to acceleration, and this reaction creates a voltage. So the device interprets that voltage to figure out velocity and orientation.

The capacitive can sense static (like gravity) and dynamic (like human movement) acceleration. So a change in force will change its capacitance. Then the device can translate that into voltage for interpretation.

Because we live in a three-dimensional world, accelerometers must use two-axis or three-axis models. Cars often stick with two, as they rarely go up or down unless they’re hovercars. They just need to know whether something is coming from the left, right, back, or front. Most phones, on the other hand, use three, as people wave them around and drop them at some point in their lives.

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