Spinning The Light: The World’s Smallest Optical Gyroscope

Gyroscopes aid in the orientation of vehicles, drones, and wearable and handheld electronic devices. Optical gyroscopes, which have no moving parts, have been developed to perform the same function. They also have a higher degree of accuracy thanks to a phenomenon known as the Sagnac effect.

The Sagnac effect is an optical phenomenon traced back to Einstein’s theory of relativity. A light beam is split into two, and the twin beams travel in opposite directions along a circular pathway to create it. This phase shift can calculate orientation with a loop on each axis of orientation.

The smallest high-performance optical gyroscopes on the market today are larger than a golf ball and, therefore, unsuitable for many portable applications. As optical gyroscopes become smaller, so does the signal that captures the Sagnac effect, making it more difficult for the gyroscope to detect movement. Until now, this has prevented optical gyroscopes from being miniaturized.

Engineers have created a new optical gyroscope 500 times smaller than the current state-of-the-art device while detecting phase shifts 30 times smaller than those systems.

The new gyroscope improves performance by employing a new technique called “reciprocal sensitivity enhancement.” In this case, “reciprocal” means having the same effect on both light beams inside the gyroscope.

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