Space, warships and iPhones: A history of the gyroscope

This tiny sensor is a lot more exciting than you might think.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
Expertise Wearables | Smartwatches | Mobile phones | Photography | Health tech | Assistive robotics Credentials
  • Webby Award honoree, 2x Gold Telly Award winner
Lexy Savvides

Gyroscopes are everywhere. They're in your phone, your smartwatch and even in your car. But this often-overlooked sensor has a fascinating history that dates all the way back to ancient times. It's even partly responsible for the infamous Mile High Club.

A gyroscope measures angular movement, and along with the accelerometer, it helps your phone with everything from recording smooth videos to running interactive games to handling experiences designed for virtual and augmented reality.

In a new video feature, CNET follows the gyroscope's journey from the high seas to the space race, and we discover how it ended up in the iPhone 4.

The once-massive gyroscope that was used to help ships navigate and to help send astronauts into space is now small enough and cheap enough to fit inside the tech we use every day. That's thanks to MEMS, or micro-electro-mechanical systems, which measure anywhere from a few millimeters long all the way down to the width of a human hair. 

In the video above you can find out more about how the gyroscope has helped accelerate major tech breakthroughs, including autopilot, electronic stability controls, and gaming with the Nintendo Wii Mote.