The literal translation of the Latin term "navigare" is "to sail". That is a clear indication that all navigation techniques have their origin in seafaring. To avoid running out of food and water, correct navigation has been essential for survival for thousands of years. But even with today's high-tech ship navigation systems, the stormy sea is still enormously challenging. High precision QMEMS gyro sensors from Epson are reliable and provide successful navigation under any weather and swell conditions.

70% of the surface of our planet Earth is covered by ocean, therefore representing the largest physically inter-linked transport infrastructure, upon which 70% of the world's goods are conveyed. It's no wonder that there has been a gigantic technological evolution going on in the shipbuilding industry since the 1960s. But it is surprising that only those directly involved with that industry are aware that the level of automation on the command bridges of ocean vessels is very similar to that of an airplane cockpit. However, ocean-related professions have lost much of their appeal compared to flight-related professions. Highly qualified crew personnel are hard to find and also represent a significant cost factor. That is a major reason why the level of automation for controlling machines, monitoring bridges and decks, navigation or communication applications ship-to-ship and/or to control centres will increase significantly in the future.

The safety aspects are another reason: in German ports alone, the traffic volume will increase from the current 270 million tons to approximately 470 tons by 2030. Maintaining incident-free ship transport, in terms of people and the environment, is quite a significant challenge. The AIS radio system for exchanging navigation data has therefore been standard since 2000. Experts believe it will soon be feasible to have a self-operating ship using modern messaging technology in conjunction with modern microelectronics, completely without personnel.

A key element of this will be navigation systems, both on land and on board. Their susceptible microelectronics must be exceptionally robust and reliable at high sea. Constantly shifting swells and varying wind drift present a permanent challenge for navigation. 100 years ago, sailors were still mainly using elevation angle assessments to the sun and planets for navigating. Today, gyro sensors or Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) are used together with satellite location systems such as GPS. Even the smallest position and movement shifts are reliably measured by the integrated acceleration and piezo-electric gyro sensors.

One particular challenge is continuously adjusting the movement of the navigation antennas under constant high winds and heavy seas. The high-precision QMEMS sensor by Epson Electronics can exploit their unique strengths to the full here: significant temperature independence and impressive signal/noise ratio as well as a low zero point drift and high linearity. Thanks to this they provide automatic antenna movement adjustment, which keeps ships of every size reliably on course.

In light of the limited space and energy resources on board, the new Epson M-V340 – the smallest IMU of its class in the world, with extremely low power consumption (18mA) – scores a lot of points. Epson developed a dedicated IC for this new V-series, once again significantly reducing the number and size of the parts. The IMU, with its compact dimensions of 10 x 12 x 4 mm and a weight of just 1 gram, stands out thanks to its outstanding performance characteristic (3°/h Gyro In-Run Bias instability).

Navigation and positioning systems are increasingly being used not only to stay on course, but also for marine surveying. Actually, the ocean floor is less charted than the surface of Mars. In light of the extreme increase in ship transport and the increased construction demands regarding coastal protection or pipeline construction, there is quite a lot to be done in this sector. The "Ocean Business" exhibition, which finished in April, just began to reveal what enormous potential there is in the field of marine surveying.

Even after several thousand years of ocean travel, ship transport is going to become increasingly important for humanity. But one thing will always be the same: the respect for the element of water and the gigantic force of weather at high sea.


QMEMS: QMEMS is a combination of quartz, a crystalline material with exceptional properties, such as outstanding temperature stability and high precision, and MEMS (micro electromechanical system). Those components are manufactured in a micro fabrication process with a quartz material instead of a semiconducting material (as with MEMS). It provides outstanding characteristics in a compact housing. QMEMS is a registered trademark of the Seiko Epson Corporation.

Inertial measurement unit (IMU): IMU is a system for the detection of inertial movements, which consists of angular rate sensors for three axes and a tri-directional acceleration sensor. IMUs are primarily used for measuring the motion or stabilizing the attitude of an object.
Gyroscopic (angular rate) sensor: A sensor that measures rotation angle of an object per unit of time (angular rate) with respect to a reference axis.

In-Run Bias Instability: Is defined as the minimum of the Allan Deviation plot and a commonly used measure for the sensor stability.

AIS (Automatic Identification System): AIS was stipulated as the radio system standard in 2000 by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). It enables the exchange of navigation, travel and manoeuvre data of ships, to optimise the safety and control of ship transport. This information converges at traffic centres and provides totally new options for traffic monitoring.