Motion sensor modules perform the same function - the provision of positional intelligence - as the organ of balance (the vestibular system) in the inner ear provides to humans.

But according to Xsens, the 3D motion tracking specialist, the accuracy and precision of these electronic devices can be even better than that of the vestibular system.

For example, the modules enable a smart tractor to autonomously pilot its way around a field, help an unmanned underwater vehicle to remain horizontal and to navigate in the right direction, and let a drone or helicopter camera perform automatic stabilisation so that it can take pin-sharp aerial photographs.

Motion sensor modules are already deployed in high numbers and demand is growing fast in sectors such as defence, robotics and agriculture.

A big breakthrough for sensors was the introduction of chip-scale MEMS accelerometers for use in vehicle airbags. This revelation led to the development of affordable, small, embedded motion sensor modules for the mass market.

Along with performance, price is a very important element of Xsens’ offering.

“We want to let innovation thrive,” Meindert Zeeuw, Business Manager, Inertial Sensor Modules (ISM), Xsens, told NE, “so it’s vital we make affordable technology. Our solutions are half the price of competitors.”

Zeeuw continued, “It’s that combination of low price and high performance that makes us great for start-ups and established companies alike.”

He believes it is this amalgamation that won its MTi 600-series the XCELLENCE Award earlier in the year at the US Xponetial exhibition.

“A lot of start-ups who want to work in sensors are restricted by price," he explained. "Previously, they’ve been buying the cheapest sensor components they can find, but they’re not good enough – they don’t last. Our modules offer them a reliable solution that they can afford.”

“We’re making it simple too by delivering a hardware solution complete with all the necessary software,” added Arnout Koelewijn, its Product Manager ISM. “It’s a plug-in -and-play module.”

“We’re a sensor fusion company,” he continued. By this he means that it specialises in algorithms which collect and analyse data from the sensor components.

The actual technical make up of its products, such as the 600-series which comprises an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, barometer, temperature sensor, GPS receiver, a clock, and a processor, are sourced off-the-shelf. This includes hardware design by mCube, which acquired the company back in 2017.

“We are all about data," Koelewijn explained. "There are two divisions where we're mostly used: human motion and industrial.” He pointed to several examples of where Xsens had been used in both, such as to track and assess the effects of sport, to control a mechanical limb, to stabilise a crane moving containers, and to navigate robots within a warehouse.

The data, he said, comes in familiar formats and is outputted in real-time. It can be extracted via RS232, UART or CAN bus.

Looking ahead, Zeeuw and Koelewijn said it’s going to be all about smaller, more accurate sensors.

Koelewijin placed three different types of sensors alongside one another to demonstrate to NE the progression industry has made towards miniaturisation.

“In a couple of years, these sensors will be so small they’ll be able to fit discreetly inside a shirt’s fabric tissue,” he contended."But the biggest step we'll be taking is to make our algorithms even better and solutions even cheaper."