Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Quick Look at A Couple Android Gyro Apps

Tonight I was flying from KDAL to KMSP on Southwest. Now with the technology on all the time policy, I've been getting more bold. I actually try to use aviation apps on the plane while riding in the back. I've tried GPS based apps, and the metal tubes that are commercial aviation make using the built in phone and tablet GPS unreliable at best, and mostly unusable. I have maybe gotten 4 satellites at once on my tablet.

Gyro apps should be usable on aircraft, no matter where you are sitting. I tried a couple at random while coming home. I didn't start using them until we penetrated the clouds just north of KRST. We were supposed to be flying the KASPR4 arrival, but when we got in close, the controllers gave us all routing.

From my window, is seemed like we got much closer to KMSP than flight aware shows, but this will show that we did do some maneuverin, especially out past Lake Minnetonka.

The two apps I used were Sensors and Gyro.  Both apps portray an aircraft Attitude Indicator (AI), where gyro also displays a Directional Gyro (DG).They both rely on the sensors in the tablet or phone. I tested both on my Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (classic?).

I've written before about how the gyros work on an Android device. The gyros in the device are rate sensors, and to display current attitude information, they need to be integrated over time. Both apps seem to have done this well, with limits.

Sensors, (I can't find it in the play store any more, I did crash it this evening, so I was able to send the author a note about me wanting to get in touch with him/her)  is a really basic AI. It is probably designed for a phone, but it seems really reliable.  The gaps around the angle display seem to be quite revealing on the tablet, but probably look good on a phone. The calibrate button is needed, and should be set while the aircraft is on the ground.

Where the Sensors app has trouble, is the coarseness of the changes. I had to integrate its reading to determine our attitude. I don't want to be too harsh on this app, it does well. It is a little jerky, and tended to not lock in to a particular pitch or bank angle. The bottom numbers are always integer values, so I wonder if there is some rounding going on, and that makes it less smooth. Overall, I really like the work that went into this app.

The other app, Gyro, or Inflight Instruments looks really good. It has a ton of settings. I've said before the Galaxy Note 10.1 sometimes doesn't work with some apps, because of the gyros, but this app lets you adjust around it with different Gyro configurations (in the settings menu). Once I found that my tablet seems to have the gyroscope orientation "C" with the tablet in portrait mode, and set the calibration, I could see it work.
The AI wasn't as sensitive as I might like. During the big right turn in the picture at the top, it seemed like we were doing a 15 degree bank, and the AI only showed about half a line of turn. The DG seemed right on, or very close. I got myself turned around, and thought the DG was pointing the wrong way, but let it go, it turns out it was pretty much right on.


Right now, I wouldn't use either of these for instrument replacements in actual IFR conditions. They show promise. I probably won't write my own gyro instrument app.

I did want to try A-EFIS, but thought it needed GPS (it does for altitude). That appears to be a reliable panel replacement.  Next time, I will try it.

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