Instruments for Navigation at Sea, Land, Air and Outer Space

Dead Reckoning

  • starting point
  • direction towards target
  • speed
Different types of odometers. A wheel odometer for children and a more profession one as well as an odometer for a bike.

Angles and Triangulation

  • light house
  • feature in the landscape, like a mountain top or water tower
  • celestial body such as the moon, the sun or a star. Most commonly the north star.
  • Dip or inclination, which says something about high or low an object is. Alternatively the angle in a vertical plane.
  • Azimuth or bearing, which gives us an angle in a horizontal plane.


A bearing compass for marine usage and a compass for land navigation on foot.
An old marine compass embedded in two gimbal rings, to keep the compass level while a ship is tilted by waves on the ocean.



Different types of clinometers. To the left you can see how simple this is to make by simply combining an angle measure and weight at the end of a string, referred to as a plumb bob or plummet.


A marine sextant used on ships. A bubble sextant previously used on airplanes and finally a sextant used on early spacecraft.


An old Theodolite and two modern ones. Notice how they all allow rotation both horizontally and vertically, to allow measurements of both azimuth and dip angles.

Star Camera or Tracker

Cameras intended for scientific usage and automated system, such as a Star Camera, used to calculate angles between known stars automatically rather than relying on a human operating a sextant.
2 megapixel camera used on the Juno spacecraft.


Cameras attached to various forms of gimbals.
The upper left is a spinning top. The other two are Gyroscopes. Gyroscopes are really just a top embedded in 3 gimbals.


Inertial Navigation Systems

Navigation Using Electronic Sensors

An electro-mechanical gyroscope from an old aircraft. On the right you see the front display of a navigation ball, helping the pilot figure out the orientation of his aircraft. These were intricate and sophisticated electro-mechanical devices, but obsolete today.
Three different breakout boards, from the left: a magnetometer, combined magnetometer and 3 axis accelerometers and finally a board with a chip combinig everything: magnetometer, accelerometers and gyroscopes. The coin is to given an idea of how tiny these chips are.





Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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Erik Engheim

Erik Engheim

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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