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What are Tilt Sensors?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Tilt sensors are devices capable of detecting tilt and activating a circuit to alert a system or user to the fact that an object appears to be changing position. These devices are relatively simplistic, but can provide basic and useful feedback. More complicated sensor arrays can determine the degree of tilt and may also record data to provide people with a stream of information about an object's movement. Electronics stores often sell basic tilt sensors, and people can make their own if they are familiar with fabricating electronic components.

The basic tilt sensor design contains a metal ball or blob of mercury inside a tube. When the object is upright, the metal stays at the bottom. As it tilts, it rolls, closing the circuit and triggering a light or audible alarm. Mercury was once standard for tilt sensor construction, but this is no longer preferred because of the human health risks. A simple metal ball design is more common today.

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Some examples of settings where manufacturers may use tilt sensors include video game controllers, car alarms, aircraft, and drilling equipment. Tilt sensors are also useful on portable electronics with screens that automatically change orientation to accommodate a user's position. A system can have multiple sensors to interact with each other and provide useful feedback about the nature of movement. The tilt sensors may also provide information on vibration, by determining how rapidly the object changes position, and noting the direction of movement. A connected system can offer a chance for movement analysis, as an operator can get information from different tilt sensors to see how and when an object moved.

Designers of robot and other systems with the capability to orient themselves physically in space need tilt sensors to provide feedback to the device. The sensors tell it whether it is right way up, and provide information about the angle it is currently operating at so it can make adjustments as necessary. Tilt sensors are also part of safety systems that automatically shut systems off when they tilt; many portable electric heaters, for example, will shut down if they fall over, to prevent a fire.

A tilt sensor can be directly attached to a circuit board in an electronic system. These devices are typically inexpensive and easy to install, although people need to be careful to avoid breaking their leads to ensure they will still function. If a tilt sensor starts to malfunction, the system may not respond to tilting movements, or it may trigger false alarms, indicating the need to investigate the sensors and make sure they are working right.

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