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A mechanical or optical device used to maintain orientation during motion. A mechanical gyroscope consists of a rapidly spinning wheel set in a framework that permits it to tilt freely in any direction or to rotate about any axis. The momentum of such a wheel causes it to retain its attitude when the framework is tilted. An optical gyroscope, laser or fibre, measures the interference pattern generated by two light beams, traveling in opposite directions within a mirrored ring or fibre loop, in order to detect very small changes in motion. Gyroscopes are used in compasses, in automatic pilots on ships and aircraft, in the steering mechanisms of torpedoes, in antiroll equipment on large ships, and in inertial guidance systems.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on gyroscope, visit Britannica.com.