How Does an Inclinometer Work?

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Basic Inclinometer Function

An inclinometer is a device used to measure the tilt of an angle. It is also called a "tilt sensor." The device can be used to measure an angle to a point, such as a star, or to track the shift of an object, such as a building. Inclinometers can be used for both vertical and horizontal angle measurements, and devices designed for easy use in either orientation are available.

Different technologies can be used within an inclinometer. These include electronic, gas, and pendulum designs.

Electronic Inclinometers

An electronic inclinometer is able to read angles to very precise degrees. These models use an internal gyroscope to measure the direction of gravity's pull. The gyroscope stays in one position, no matter the orientation. When placed against a solid object, the inclinometer compares the angle of the object to the gyroscope, and displays the result on an electronic readout.

A mercury inclinometer works in a similar way. Instead of a gyroscope, however, mercury liquid is used. When the device is operated, liquid mercury stays level, just as water in a glass stays level when the glass is tilted. Because mercury conducts electricity, contacts can detect the device angle compared to the liquid level. This is displayed on a screen.

Manual Inclinometers

An older type of inclinometer is the gas bubble type. This holds a glass tube with liquid and an air bubble inside. As the instrument moves, the bubble stays level. Its position shows the incline angle on a scale.

Another common design uses a pendulum. Here, a weight is placed on a rod. The rod is able to move freely. A scale is used as a guide. No matter the orientation, the weight is kept down by gravity, while the scale moves. The number indicated by the rod is the angle of difference, measured in degrees.


About the Author

Benjamin Aries has been involved in digital media for much of his life and began writing professionally in 2009. He has lived in several different states and countries, and currently writes while exploring different parts of the world. Aries specializes in technical subjects. He attended Florida State University.