What is a gyroscopic stabilizer for an onboard camera after all?

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What is a gyroscopic stabilizer for an onboard camera after all?

What is a gyroscopic stabilizer for an onboard camera after all?

You probably have heard of gyroscopic cameras – aka “gyro-cams”. If not, you certainly have heard the term gyroscopic image stabilizers. Recently popularized by the onboard MotoGP gyroscopic camera, the word is out there. And by now you probably know that both the Dareware Labs project and the already famous Wenpod X1 are gyroscopic camera stabilizers designed specially for bikers, created to allow you to make your action videos even more exciting and engaging.

But what exactly is that?

In short, a gyroscopic stabilizer is a portable electronic device that will keep a camera always leveled horizontally regardless of the situations imposed to it. You can call it an advanced gimbal, smart enough to predict and correct movements smoothly enough so the footage does not get nauseously shaken. There are different applications for stabilizers and lately this technology is getting more accessible as more devices are including gyro stabilization as built-in features.

How it works?

In short, the gigantic majority of the gyroscopic stabilizers consist of three basic distinct parts – all equally important:

  1.  sensors that will notice the actions;
  2.  a control system;
  3.  actuators, or motors.

About the sensors, there are different electronic devices that are used to determine the position and orientation of a given object. The most common of these sensors are the gyroscope and the accelerometer. Though very similar in purpose, these electronic devices measure different things. When combined into a single device as they usually are, they can return a very powerful set of information regarding the positioning of an object. That’s why so many things today have gyroscopes (nowadays the term gyroscope is commonly used for the combination of the gyro + accelerometer sensors), from videogames to mobiles and submarines to the SteadyRide.

The gyroscope

What exactly it measures? Gyroscope sensors, also known as angular rate sensors, will sense angular velocity. It means this sensor can tell you (in short) how many degrees an object has rotated in one second – and if the movement was clockwise or anti-clockwise. The usual output of a gyroscope to a control system is something like “12 degrees per second” or “-4 degrees per second”. It means that in a given axis your object has rotated N degrees in one second. This way, the control system will know what to do with that information once it gets a message like “object has tilted 4 degrees left in the past second”.

If you curious about what an actual gyroscope looks like: its actual size is between 1 to 100 micrometers, or about the width of a human hair. So to make our life easier, the gyro is usually encapsulated into a bigger package, within a few square millimeters that can be seen and manipulated.

The accelerometer

The accelerometer is an electronic device that measures acceleration forces. These forces may be static, like the constant force of gravity (g-force) pulling at our feet, or they could be dynamic – caused by moving the accelerometer. By measuring the amount of static acceleration due to gravity, you can find out the angle a certain object is tilted at with respect to the earth. Essentially, if absolutely nothing happens and the accelerometer is sitting on a table, its output will be zero after you discount the Earth’s gravity (that will always be measured by the accelerometer anyway). When it moves, the accelerometer will tell you how much more acceleration was added, always referenced from the acceleration of gravity. All of this – real time, on the spot. The accelerometers do not have the time element as the gyroscopes. That sounds a bit complicated, and it may be indeed. And although the main purpose of an accelerometer is not necessarily to detect the tilt angle of an object, it works indirectly, helping a lot as a secondary sensor.

The combination element

The control system, the brain of any gyroscopic stabilizer, will combine information received from the gyroscope and accelerometer. This will give the system a precise idea of what is happening to the camera, real time. As one example, a SteadyRide sensor tells the control system that the camera onboard a bike has just been tilted 8 degrees to the right. The brain of the stabilizer will then calculate what is required to be done to correct that (to tilt the camera back, 8 degrees to the left to balance the system). The speed and force of the necessary reaction is also calculated in this process, so the leveling of the object is kept as a smooth and continuous action. This seamless process occurs many many times per second and collateral effects like vibrations are also detected so they can be eliminated of the results. The control system is also responsible for battery management, control of user interface and other elements.

Leveling the camera

In order to move the camera when necessary, any gimbal or gyroscopic stabilizer will have at least one motor. These are special compact motors – unbelievably light yet very powerful – that will be able to hold and keep the camera leveled. These motors are usually noiseless, so they do not interfere with the footage audio capture. They also are magnetically driven and have a very fast response. Speed is vital for this application as stabilizers are usually employed in very demanding situations such as extreme sports.

All together now

A gyroscopic stabilizer will then work collecting data from the sensors about the tilt angle of the camera, analyzing it, coming up with a mathematical answer for the recent changes on the angle and using the motor(s) to correct that as fast as possible but with the right speed to ensure a smooth movement. This whole process happens dozens of times per second, and never stops while the control system is on.

That’s it!

Keen on having on your own gyroscopic onboard camera? Meet the Wenpod X1 !

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Showing 4 comments
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