BAE Systems typically uses three single-axis gyroscopes positioned together to measure three-dimensional axis movement. This solution is too expensive for emerging high volume automotive and commercial applications.
In 1996, Dr Chris Fell of BAE Systems discovered that it was possible to design a single structure multi-axis gyroscope which would be more cost effective. The commitment to develop a unique new product began.
Professor Colin Fox of The University of Nottingham was invited to provide knowledge of the principles that would underpin the development of a single structure multi-axis gyroscope, working closely with BAE Systems’ engineers.
Having triggered the first of a series of PhD sponsorships and seven worldwide patents jointly filed by Dr Fell and Professor Fox, the BAE Systems single structure multi-axis gyro project is leading the world in gyro innovation.
BAE Systems plc is Europe’s largest defence company, operating in five continents and employing 88,000 people worldwide. Supplying a wide range of inertial measurement products, BAE Systems works with the world’s major defence, automotive and aerospace programmes.
Amongst BAE Systems’ many innovations are high-accuracy spinning wheel gyros, vibrating structure solid state gyros and silicon MEMS (Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems) solid state gyros. These are utilised in a multitude of different applications, including high performance navigation systems and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems in cars.
BAE Systems began its partnership with The University of Nottingham back in 1994, through Professor Colin Fox of the University’s School of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering. Professor Fox’s expertise – inertial sensors and the dynamics, modelling and design of MEMS structures and devices - is directly relevant to BAE Systems interests in gyro innovation.
Dr Chris Fell, Principal Consultant Engineer at BAE Systems, explains: “We came across Professor Fox following a review of the relevant academic literature. He was clearly someone who could help us. His academic work was directly relevant, and he was based in the UK.
“Professor Fox has particularly relevant expertise on the model dynamics of MEMS resonators. At BAE , we have a call for very specific expertise. We’re best served by picking the brains of an expert whenever we need to.”
Professor Fox’s industrial experience (having once been employed by Smiths Aerospace and by Rolls-Royce Aero Engines) also had value, as acknowledged by Dr Fell: “He was more aware of industrial needs than academics can often be. He gave us what we wanted, and not lots of things we didn’t need to know.”
The expertise provided by The University of Nottingham helped meet BAE Systems’ objective of reducing the retail cost of these second generation silicon gyros from $1,000s to $10 per unit at volume, a factor which was welcomed in particular by an automotive industry Dr Fell describes as being “ruthless on cost.” The same knowledge also helped with the development a high performance version for the space industry. “The same knowledge and principles are applicable to both low cost and high performance gyros,” confirms Dr Fell.
The University of Nottingham was also intrumental in the development of the single structure multi-axis gyro. Whereas multi-axis measurements are typically taken by positioning three single-axis gyros together, a single structure gyro would be much more affordable, expanding its use particularly in cars.
“The trouble is that this is not three times more difficult to produce, it is actually ten times more difficult – but we are working together to meet these technical and research challenges,” states Dr Fell.
Such were the innovations, the single structure multi-axis gyro triggered eight worldwide patents - seven of them jointly filed by Professor Fox and co-workers at Nottingham and Dr Fell. Just one of the many applications for this fourth generation gyro is rollover sensing in cars, enabling the instant deployment of life-saving overhead airbags.
The University of Nottingham remains a valuable partner for BAE Systems. Dr Fell is clear: “In the future we want to move into other related applications. Our focus is on delivery and goals. By helping us with specific focused problems as well as long-term thinking and research, The University of Nottingham is the ideal partner to help us achieve our aims.”