Have you thought about how to find the best sensors for autonomous navigation? Different types of autonomy sensors such as autonomous vehicles and robotics systems require several sensors to navigate their environments safely. These devices effectively serve as the eyes of the robot or autonomous system and allow it to identify obstacles in its path while proceeding toward its destination. 

Robotic sensing devices are typically divided into internal and external types:

  • Internal sensing devices provide information about the robot’s internal states. These include autonomy sensors that report on the robot’s position, acceleration, velocity, and torque.
  • External sensing devices, by contrast, detect conditions outside the robot or autonomous system. These may include infrared and ultrasonic detection systems as well as RGB cameras and proximity alerting systems.

Finding the best sensors for autonomous navigation is essential to provide your robotic systems with the ability to move about accurately and safely.


What Types of Autonomy Sensors Are Used in Robotics?

Sensors for autonomous systems use several different methods to gather information about the robot’s surroundings and the internal states of the robotic system. Understanding the most common types of autonomy sensors can help you make the best decisions when configuring your robotics sensors for optimal performance.


Best Sensors for Autonomous Navigation: Light Sensors

Light sensing devices generally include photoresistor cells and photovoltaic cells. These sensors convert light into signals that can be interpreted by the robot’s software. This allows autonomous systems to build an internal image of the surrounding terrain and environment. Some of the other types of sensors used for autonomous navigation include the following:

  • Infrared systems detect radiation changes in the environment to provide added data points for robotic software.
  • RGB color sensing devices can detect red, green, and blue colors to create a more accurate representation of the environment for robotics systems.
  • Visual simultaneous localization and mapping (VSLAM) systems consist of the integrated set of. [This isn’t a sensor, it’s the system for interpreting the RGB camera data (video).] This system gathers, tags, filters, and combines the video data to provide reference points for navigation. Similar to counting the turns of a wheel, this “visual odometers” system allows for navigational data that can supplement and even replace other navigation sensors in some instances.


Best Sensors for Autonomous Navigation: Sound Sensing Devices

Microphones pick up ambient noise in the area of the robot to provide added cues for location and motion. These systems are generally not suitable for use without any other sensors to collect data on the surrounding environment. They can, however, provide a measure of protection in areas where moving obstacles are common.


Best Sensors for Autonomous Navigation: Proximity sensing devices

These sensing systems emit a certain medium to create feedback signals that can be interpreted by the software onboard the autonomous system to estimate relative position. Proximity detection devices may include ultrasound, infrared, and photoresistor sensors to determine if obstacles are in the nearby environment. These systems can prevent robotic systems from bumping into objects. They do not provide much help, however, in mapping and creating a virtual image of the surrounding environment.


Tactile Sensing Systems

Contact and force sensors provide robotic systems with a method for detecting and interacting with items in the nearby environment. These sensing devices allow robots to interact with objects and to perform tasks by using information collected through these tactile sensing devices. The key drawback of these sensors is that they require contact with other items to determine their presence. As a result, they cannot be used as a sole method for navigation for robotics systems.


Temperature Sensing Devices

A 2019 New York Times article identifies thermal imaging sensors as the best methods for identifying human beings and other mammals to prevent collisions for self-driving cars. Thermal sensing devices are a solid addition to robotic systems that operate in areas with people or animals. For environments in which most obstacles are nonliving, these temperature-sensing devices are less useful and may not be necessary at all.


Navigation and Positioning Sensors

Autonomous systems need ongoing and accurate information on their physical position, the direction of travel, and attitude to reach their destinations and to navigate their environment effectively. GPS devices, gyroscopes, and magnetometers are typically used to provide this data for robotic systems and vehicles in real-world situations. These sensors are among the most common and the most useful sensors in devices and robotics systems that must navigate longer distances or traverse unfamiliar terrain. They may be limited, however, by obstructions that could reduce the accuracy of GPS signals to the devices.


Acceleration Sensing Devices

Autonomous navigation systems require detailed and ongoing information faster than the speed at which the system is traveling. Accelerometers provide this data to the software and hardware that control the robot, allowing these systems to determine their rates of travel and to extrapolate their current position more accurately. In some cases, accelerometers can provide a valuable backup source of data when GPS readings are absent or inconsistent.


What Sensors Are Used for Mobile Ground Robotics and Autonomous Navigation?

Inertial measurement units, better known as IMUs, typically contain several different types of devices to provide data points for autonomous navigation:

  • Magnetometers
  • Barometers
  • Accelerometers
  • Gyroscopes

GPS systems are also integrated into most mobile ground robotics devices and are packaged as inertial navigation systems or INS. Implementing multiple GPS devices on the robot can often increase heading accuracy and overall reliability for geolocation services, which can be critical to the success of your mobile robotics systems.


Get the Right Sensors for Your Robotics Build With Inertial Sense

At Inertial Sense, we offer practical solutions for the future of sensing devices and autonomous navigation. Our LUNA platform offers turnkey convenience for autonomous systems without requiring extensive coding by our customers.

To learn more about the best sensors for autonomous navigation and the services we offer at Inertial Sense, visit us online or give us a call today at 1-801-406-3163. We look forward to the chance to help you succeed in the fast-paced field of modern autonomous robotics.


Learn More:

The Future of INS and Autonomous Navigation

The Limitations of Autonomous Navigation

IMU Sensors 101 – Pros & Cons of Sensor Types