Smartphone Magnetometers – How do smartphones work out what direction they are pointing?

Magnetic and gravity field sensors located within your phone. 1. Magnetic and gravity field sensors located within your phone.

Smartphone Magnetometers TrueNorth2

Smartphone Magnetometers TrueNorth2

Using GPS coordinates of the phone location and a global map of declination angle the required correction angle for True North is calculated. Image: BGS (NERC) 2. Using GPS coordinates of the phone location and a global map of declination angle the required correction angle for True North is calculated.

The map can now be correctly orientated to True North. 3. The map can now be correctly orientated to True North.

Sophisticated smart phone applications such as maps or augmented reality use measurements of the Earth’s magnetic and gravity fields to work out the orientation of the phone.

A typical smart phone has three magnetic field sensors, fixed perpendicular to each other, which are used to work out the local direction of Magnetic North.

In addition, they have three accelerometers which sense gravity to give tilt information and to help work out which way is down.
Three steps to your true path

Magnetic and gravity field sensors located within your phone measure the direction of Magnetic North and the downward direction at the phone’s location (Figure 1).

Using the GPS coordinates of the phone location and a global map of declination angle (the angle between true north and magnetic north) the application software computes the required correction angle for True North (Figure 2).

The map or image shown to the user can now be correctly orientated to True North, which is what most people expect (Figure 3).

The application software uses the location of the phone from the mobile phone’s nearest base-station or from a GPS reading along with a map of the declination of the magnetic field (produced by BGS and NOAA in the USA) to work out the direction of True North at the user’s location.
Why is it important?

The declination angle is small in the UK (< 2°) but can be much larger in California (~15°) or in Brazil (> 20°). Users in these areas would quickly become lost if the application software didn’t correct for declination.

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