# Accelerometers: Theory and Operation

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1 C Accelerometers: Theory and Operation The Vertical Accelerometer Accelerometers measure accelerations by measuring forces. The vertical accelerometer in this kit consists of a lead sinker hung from a spring. Its operation can be understood in terms of Hooke s law: No = a = Upward > a > Downward < a < = kx; where is the force applied by the spring to the sinker, x is the extension of the spring, and k is a constant that depends on the spring. The negative sign indicates that the force is in the direction opposite to the extension. As the force applied by the spring to the sinker increases, the stretch increases in direct proportion. Thus the position of the end of the spring indicates the amount of force being applied to the sinker by the spring. Calibration of the device can be in newtons for the spring force, or, in the ratio a a / m = an acceleration since the mass of the sinker remains constant for all uses. With the unstretched spring position taken as the zero point, the weight of a single sinker defines the position corresponding to a restoring force which has magnitude equal to the weight of the sinker, or / m = 9.8 m/sec 2 Note that if the device is calibrated in units of g instead of m/sec 2, it should be pointed out that the unit g used here is related to the local acceleration due to gravity only in that it has the same magnitude. Since the symbol g means local gravitational field strength, a reading of 2. g on an accelerometer does not mean that the gravitational field has increased. It means that the rider feels a force which is twice the magnitude of the rider s weight. When the device is held vertically, the net force on the sinker is given by: F net = - ; where is the weight of the sinker. A diagram of the spring and sinker is shown in Figure 1. When the accelerometer is held at rest (1a), the spring force is equal to the weight but in the opposite direction, so the net acceleration is zero. and the scale reads " 1g". F net = = - = (a) (b) Figure 1 Diagram of the Vertical Accelerometer All the spring is doing is supporting the weight of the sinker. This is also true if the device is moving up or down with constant velocity. If the sinker is accelerating upward, the spring must exert not only the weight but enough additional upward force to provide the acceleration (1b). With greater than, the net acceleration is greater than zero and upward. In this case, the spring will have stretched more than when at rest and the sinker will be below the "1g" position. If the sinker is accelerating downward (1c), the spring must be applying less force than the weight. It will have stretched less than when at rest and the sinker will be above the "1g" position. In this case, the weight helps to accelerate the mass downward. The device registers the acceleration as seen in the frame of reference of the rider. Consider the sinker of the accelerometer to be a "plumb bob". Its direction response is the same as that of a plumb bob. In this case, the amount of stretch of the spring gives the weight of the sinker in the combined gravitational and acceleration fields of the ride. You cannot tell the gravitational field in one direction from an acceleration in the opposite direction. You cannot feel the difference between a force due to gravity and a force due to the ride pushing on you. The scale readings give what you feel is the local gravitational field. Since it registers the acceleration in the reference frame of the rider, the acceler- (c) 3

2 C ometer readings agree with what the rider feels. A negative or downward acceleration occurs after the tops of roller coaster hills, when an elevator begins its downward trip, or when one begins to slide downhill. Riders have a sinking feeling because less force is being applied upward than they are accustomed to. On some rides the downward force is partly a push from the safety bar. This downward push feels as if the rider has suddenly become lighter and is rising out of the seat. Sure enough, the accelerometer reads less than one g. Upward or positive accelerations are felt in elevators as they begin to rise, and at the bottom of vertical loops on roller coasters and swings. As the elevator begins to rise, the floor must push up with a force greater than the rider s weight. The rider interprets this as an increase in downward force and feels heavier. The accelerometer spring, stretching to provide the additional force for the sinker, registers more than one g. Both the direction and magnitude of the readings agree with the rider s feeling of an altered gravitational field. Upside down, at the top of a vertical circle such as a roller coaster loop or rotating ride, the rider may feel little if any force from the seat. The rider feels almost weightless. At the same point the accelerometer shows little if any pull being applied by the spring. They are in agreement. At the bottom of the same loop the strong upward push from the seat feels like a force pushing the rider down into the ground. This upward force is applied to the sinker by the spring which stretches strongly giving a large reading. In both cases, the rider sees the spring being pulled down toward the rider s seat, which conforms with what the rider feels. The Horizontal Accelerometer With horizontal accelerometers, as opposed to vertical accelerometers, there is not the same confusion between the subjective experience and the accelerometer reading. At rest, the BB's in the horizontal accelerometer settle to the bottom of the curved plastic tube. There is no horizontal force applied and no horizontal acceleration. When the BB's are above the bottom, as in Figure 2, the inside of the curved plastic tube applies a force to them. The applied force has a vertical component equal to the weight of the BB's and a horizontal component equal to the mass of the BB's times their horizontal acceleration. The applied force acts along the line making the angle with the vertical, center line of the accelerometer. Since the components are perpendicular to one another and the horizontal force, ma, is opposite the angle : tan = ma/; and ma = tan. We can divide both sides by the mass of the BB's to obtain: a = g tan ; where a, the horizontal acceleration, is always directed forward toward the front of the device. To measure the horizontal acceleration in the direction you are moving, just hold the accelerometer level with the straw pointed in the direction you are moving. Multiply g by the tangent of the angle to the center of the BB. Force applied by tubing - ma To use the horizontal accelerometer to measure horizontal centripetal accelerations, hold it perpendicular to the direction in which you are headed and as level as possible. For example, on the rotor ride at an amusement park, where you are in a rotating cylinder feeling mashed to the wall, hold the accelerometer with the short side pressed to the wall. It will be level with the floor and, since you are traveling sideways, perpendicular to the direction of travel. Before the motion begins, the BBs sit in the bottom of the tube. When the ride begins to rotate, a centripetal force is needed to make them go in a circle. The BBs will ride up the side nearest the wall, as if forced outward. In fact, the tube will be exerting a horizontal force on them directed in toward the center of the ride. They will ride up until the angle is large enough to give the necessary horizontal acceleration. In circular motion a = V 2 /r; where V is the linear speed along the circumference and r is the radius of the circle. As the ride picks up speed, the BBs will travel farther up the curve. Direction of scien Figure 2 Diagram of the Horizontal Accelerometer 4

3 C Using the Horizontal Accelerometer as a Sextant The horizontal accelerometer can be used to measure the heights of objects that are too high to measure directly, such as measuring the height from the ground to the top of King Kong's head, in Figure 3. You can measure these distances with reasonable accuracy using just the accelerometer, a piece of string that is marked out in meters, and a little trigonometry. The procedure is as follows: 1. Measure the distance S with a piece of string marked out in meters. S is the horizontal distance between your point of observation and a point directly below the object of interest. 2. Sight through the straw to the top of King Kong's head, and measure the angle on the accelerometer. is the angle that the center BB aligns with on the horizontal accelerometer. It is also the angle between your horizontal line of sight and your line of sight to the top of King Kong's head. 3. Measure h, the vertical distance between the base of your height measurement and your observation point. As long as the ground is level between you and the building on which King Kong is standing, h is just the distance from the ground to your eyes. 4. Then: H = h + h 1 = h + S tan. H h 1 Figure 3 Measuring Heights with the Horizontal Accelerometer S h Table of Tangents Angle Tangent Angle Tangent

4 C Construction and other Tips A. Vertical Accelerometer When calibrating the vertical accelerometer, it is wise to employ Hooke s Law and a some foresight. In Figure 4, a thin, solid wire has been attached to a lead weight. By hooking the end of the wire onto the lower end of the spring just before lowering it into the tube, one can establish the 2g point easily. Then pull the 2nd weight out the bottom of the tube and remove it, allowing the single lead weight to rise up to the 1g point. With these two points determined, it is easy to finish calibrating the accelerometer. B. Horizontal Accelerometer 1. One method for constructing the horizontal accelerometer makes use of the rapid set-up time of hot glue. Put the clear tubing in one half of the cardboard, insert the three BB s. Now put hot glue in the places indicated in Figure 5. Pressing the two halves of the accelerometer together results in a completed project (except for the straw which can also be hot glued on)15 seconds later. NOTE: Do not get hot glue in the end of the tube as the BB s tend to stick to the glue. Fine, solid wire Figure 4: Method of calibrating Vertical Accelerometer Hot Glue Figure 5: Using Hot Glue to Construct the Horizontal Accelerometer 2. For students using simple calculators (no trig functions), a helpful aide is to reproduce the table of tangents (page 5) and glue it to the side of the horizontal accelerometer. Both the acceleration and the heights of rides depends upon the tangent value. 3. Also for ease of use, the student may wish to put the length of his/her pace on the side of the horizontal accelerometer if this is the method being used to measure horizontal distances. 4. Other uses of the accelerometers: a. Use the vertical accelerometer to measure the acceleration achieved when jumping upwards, or to measure the stopping acceleration when jumping down from a chair seat. The basic principle of the device can be clearly learned before going to the park. b. Accelerometers can be employed on mass transit to measure motion, including buses, light rail and subway systems. c. The horizontal accelerometer can be used to sight star altitudes. 6

5 \$. Constructing the Horizontal Accelerometer C 2/9 Step Materials Needed: Accelerometer Card Plastic Tubing (at least 15.6 cm) BBs (3) Straw Scissors Clear Plastic Tape Rubber Band 7 6 Accelerometer Card Straw 3 BBs Rubber Band Plastic Tubing 6 7 Scissors and clear Plastic Tape Step 1 Remove the cutouts from each side of the Accelerometer Card Step 2 Fold the Accelerometer Card. Tape the side and bottom of the two halves together. White wood glue or hot glue can be used to secure the two halves of the Accelerometer Card together. 7 6 Tape Tape 7 6 Step 3 Cut the plastic tubing to fit the Accelerometer Card (15.6 cm). Place three BBs in the tube. Fit the tube into the card. Tape the tube to the card on both sides. Plastic tubing with BBs Tape Straw Step 4 Tape the straw to the top of the Accelerometer Card. Secure the rubber band to the hole in the card, as shown. It serves as a lanyard Rubber Band PASCO

6 Constructing the Vertical Accelerometer Step Materials Needed: Plastic tube Spring Red tape Rubber band Paper clip Weight End caps Masking tape, scissors, and pliers Spring Red tape Paper clip Rubber band Weight End caps Plastic tube Pushpin Masking tape, scissors, pliers, and a piece of string Step 1 Unbend the paper clip and form a "V" with it. Step 2 Use the pushpin to poke two holes in one of the plastic end caps from the inside. Step 3 Attach the weight to the spring and suspend both from the paper clip. Push the ends of the paper clip through the holes in the end cap and then bend them out forming "ears". Step 4 Using the pliers, crimp the brass ring of the weight so it is securely fastened to the loop in the end of the spring. Step 7 Wrap masking tape around the ends of the paper clip. 1g 2g Step 6 Remove the second weight (The one held on by the wire). Place a second piece of red tape around the tube, aligned with the bottom of the remaining weight. You now have the 2g and 1g points marked. Place additional pieces of tape around the tube, with equal spacing, to mark the g, 3g, and 4g levels. 2g Step 5 Tie a second weight to a piece of fine wire, and hook this wire onto the spring as well. Insert the spring, weights and end cap into the plastic tube and bend the ends of the paper clip (ears) down along the side of the tube. Hold the tube vertically. Place a piece of red tape around the tube, aligned with the bottom of the weight which is firmly attached to the spring. Step 8 Place the other end cap on the bottom of the tube. Secure the rubber band to the bottom of the tube as a lanyard. Step 9 Tape the rubber band to hold it in place. PASCO

7 These degree scales can be used to improve the accuracy achievable with a Horizontal Card. Better accuracy is desirable when, for instance, using the Card as an astrolabe to measure an elevation angle or as a clinimeter to measure the tilt angle of a part of a carousel. Instructions for applying the degree scales to the Horizontal Card are as follows (See figure in lower left corner of this page for example of finished Card): 1) Cut the degree scales out of the paper along the lines marked "cut". 2) Position the 8-- degree scale below the cut-out on the 8-- side of the Card. 3) Trim-cut the degree scale for a good fit below the cut-out of the Card. 4) Hold the Card vertically with its bottom edge on a level surface. 5) Position the degree scale on the Card with its "" below the middle "BB" shot. 6) Glue scale in place. 7) Repeat for the --8 degree scale on the --8 side of the card. 8 These degree scales were designed by Robert R. Speers, BGSU - Firelands College. Permisson is granted to copy these scales for educational purposes only ACCELEROMETER CARD SCALE PASCO p/n

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