Comparing Global Positioning System and Inertial Navigation Systems

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have ushered in a new age of navigation. Gone are the paper maps of yesteryear. Instead, you can use your phone or another GPS-enabled device to get around town. Still, sometimes GPS doesn’t cut it. At times, you may need an Inertial Navigation System (INS), which is often more accurate and responsive than a simple GPS.

These days, many people use combined GPS/INS systems, enabling highly accurate and up-to-the-second positioning. Inertial navigation systems use internal inertial sensors to track a vehicle, such as an airplane. Typically, INS systems come equipped with gyroscopes and accelerometers, and often several of each.

INS is often more accurate and provides updates more quickly than GPS. That’s due, in part, to the fact that an INS system has all the sensors and computational power onboard to calculate your position. GPS systems, on the other hand, must communicate with satellites, transferring data over potentially vast distances.

While a GPS system tells you your absolute position, an INS system tells you where you are in relation to where you started. So, a GPS can tell you that you’re at the corner of 9th Street and Broadway. An Inertial Navigation System can tell you that you’ve traveled 855 meters from your house.

INS systems sometimes work better in 3-D environments. If you’re flying a plane, other bits of information besides your absolute position, such as heading, pitch, and role, can be useful. INS systems can accurately and quickly calculate such information.

Fortunately, INS can be used alongside GPS as well. If you head to the cockpit of a commercial plane, you’ll typically find both INS and GPS working together. By combining both systems, you can ensure you have the information needed on hand to quickly and accurately navigate various environments.

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