Cover image for Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs)

Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs)

In robotics, aeronautics, and various other fields, Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) integrated with magnetic compasses, such as the GY-521 and GY-6500, are essential.

Robotics Sensors IMU Magnetic Compass GY-521 GY-6500 How it works

5 January 2024 by Kevin McAleer | Share this article on

In robotics, aeronautics, and various other fields, Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) integrated with magnetic compasses, such as the GY-521 and GY-6500, are essential.

But what are these IMUs, and how do they function alongside a magnetic compass? This article explores the world of IMUs with magnetic compass integration, explaining their mechanisms and applications.

What is an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU)

An Inertial Measurement Unit with a magnetic compass is an electronic device that measures and reports a body’s specific force, angular rate, and the magnetic field surrounding the body. This combination of accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers provides comprehensive motion tracking and orientation data. IMUs with magnetic compasses are used in various applications, including navigation systems, smartphones, and robotics.

How do IMUs Work?

IMUs consist of accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers, working together to provide extensive motion and orientation data:

  • Accelerometers: Measure linear acceleration based on movement and gravity, detecting changes in velocity along one or more axes.

  • Gyroscopes: Measure the rate of rotation around a particular axis, helping understand how fast an object is turning.

  • Magnetometers: Measure the Earth’s magnetic field, providing directional information like a traditional magnetic compass. This helps in determining the heading or orientation of the device relative to the Earth’s magnetic North.

Applications of IMUs

IMUs are widely used in:

  • Robotics: For balance control, motion tracking, and orientation.
  • Aerospace: For navigation, control of aircraft and spacecraft, and heading determination.
  • Consumer Electronics: In smartphones and gaming devices for orientation, direction, and motion detection.
  • Automotive: In vehicle stability control systems and GPS navigation.
  • Outdoor Recreation: In handheld GPS devices and digital compasses for hiking and exploration.


The GY-521 is a popular IMU module based on the MPU-6050 sensor, combining a 3-axis gyroscope, a 3-axis accelerometer, and often a magnetometer for compass functionality.


The GY-6500, an advanced model, includes a 3-axis gyroscope, a 3-axis accelerometer, and a magnetometer, offering comprehensive motion tracking and directional orientation.


Inertial Measurement Units are a cornerstone in modern technology, providing critical data for motion tracking, orientation, and direction. Understanding how IMUs like the GY-521 and GY-6500 with

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