News Release

Simplified sensor measures tilt angle and direction with liquid

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Yokohama National University

Liquid based digital readable tilt sensor image

image: The liquid-state dital tilt sensor. The sensor uses a conductive liquid to read the tilt angle and direction as digital binary signals. view more 

Credit: Yokohama National University

In storms or other turbulence, pilots need to know how the plane is orientated and the angle at which the plane is tilted toward Earth’s surface. If the plane’s nose is tilted downward at a 45-degree angle, for example, they need to counter the angle and direction to maintain altitude.


Yet, the sensor responsible for measuring such critical information requires complex external circuits and its internal mechanisms can drift over time, resulting in an accumulation of errors.


To improve the tilt sensor, Hiroki Ota, associate professor, and his graduate student, Ryosuke Matsuda, in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Yokohama National University in Japan have developed a small, simplified version that can be scaled for various applications. They published their approach in on July 21 in Advanced Materials Technologies.


“For further application of tilt sensors, a simple measurement system is essential,” said Hiroki Ota, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Yokohama National University. “In this study, we developed a sensor that can detect tilt by simply turning a direct current on and off using a conductive liquid material.”


Conventional tilt sensors consist of sub-sensors to measure acceleration and angular rate against the vibrations of the host object, like an airplane or a person outfitted with a wearable device. The measurements must be processed through external circuitry before they can be understood as the tilt calculation. More contemporary systems use liquid electrolytes to measure the tilt state electrically, where the liquid triggers an alternating current that signals the tilt angle and direction. But, according to Ota, alternating current is complex and requires external circuitry for processing, as well.


“Conventional tilt sensors using an electrolyte require alternating current, making it difficult to reduce the size of the system,” Ota said. “The sensor fabricated in this study has a digital output using direct current, which enables direct electrical measurement of tilt.”


Electrolytes do not conduct current, so the researchers selected a liquid composed of carbon nanotubes dispersed in water.


“By using a highly fluid conductive liquid, the sensor can measure not only the tilt direction but also the angle in one direction,” Ota said.


The liquid provide conductivity according to the inclination direction, which is obtained from an electrical on-off signal from direct current electrodes. The liquid moves freely in the direction of the incline, while a space that amounts to an air pocket moves in the opposite direction.


“In the tilted state, the air pocket moves to switch the conduction and insulation of the electrodes,” Ota said. “This feature offers the advantage that the inclination direction can be detected without any external calculation mechanisms.”


The researchers successfully tested the sensor on a three-pronged device that, when tilted, heated a balloon under the downward prong. The balloon would expand and lift the prong to make the device horizontal, cutting off the power to the heater. They also tested the sensor as a motion-tracking device, strapping it to the head of a researcher who tilted his head in various directions, all of which were accurately mapped.


“The device fabricated in this study can measure the tilt angle using a functional liquid,” Ota said. “In the future, we aim to extend this function to create a multi-physical sensor that can simultaneously measure other physical quantities such as pressure and strain deformation.”


The researchers plan to implement their sensors as a less cumbersome option for wearable devices and robots with limited installation room, according to Ota.


Ota is also affiliated with the Graduate School of System Integration at Yokohama National University. The paper was co-authored by Song Ziharo and Umihiro Kamoto, all with the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Yokohama National University.


This work was supported by PRESTO (grant no. JPMJPR18J2) and CREST (JPMJCR1905) from the Japanese Science and Technology Agency. H.O. acknowledges support from a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (A) provided by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science.




Yokohama National University (YNU or Yokokoku) is a Japanese national university founded in 1949. YNU provides students with a practical education utilizing the wide expertise of its faculty and facilitates engagement with the global community. YNU’s strength in the academic research of practical application sciences leads to high-impact publications and contributes to international scientific research and the global society. For more information, please see:

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