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How Motion-Activated Screwdrivers Work

The GYRO, from Black & Decker, is the world’s first (and only, as of early 2013) motion-activated power tool. Want to learn more? Check out these must-have power tools.
Courtesy Black & Decker

Power tools are a heartless bunch. Sure, they're shiny and make splendiferous roaring sounds, but do they really understand you? It's about time that someone manufactured a power tool that really gets you, where you're coming from and where you want to go. Enter the Black & Decker GYRO, a new twist on screw driving technology.

The GYRO can't quite play psychic, but it can read your body language. Twist this powered screwdriver just a fraction of an inch in one direction and the motor instantly engages and begins driving the screw. Turn the handle the other way and GYRO immediately reverses course.

It's not that Black & Decker has discovered the secret to making mind readers out of power tools. The magic lies in the GYRO's gyroscope. A gyroscope is a device that helps maintain orientation.

You've probably used multiple products with integrated gyroscopes. When you rotate your smartphone's screen, it's a gyroscope that keeps the display rotated right-side up for easy reading. Many video game controllers (such as the remotes used for the Nintendo Wii) incorporate gyroscopes, too, so that the system can detect how hard you're swinging your virtual sword or tennis racket.

The GYRO works much the same. Twist it about a quarter of a turn and the motor kicks in. The farther you turn, the faster the variable speed motor spins the driver's head, up to 180 revolutions per minute and with a maximum torque of 42 inch pounds (48.4 kilograms force centimeter), which is enough muscle for smaller tasks.

Of course, it's not the power that's revolutionary. It's the sensing technology. All powered screwdrivers and drills will drive both forwards and backwards, but all of the others require you toggle a switch to do so. Depending on the required toggling action and the circumstances, that supposedly simple switch can be downright exasperating. With the GYRO, though, there's no switch at all. Just twist and go and the job is done.

The variable speed motor is another first. Other electric screwdrivers work primarily at one speed, which is a problem when you're working with a delicate or awkward item. With GYRO's multiple speed levels, your screwdriving chores may be much easier.

While others will surely follow suit, Black & Decker is the first company to integrate gyroscopes into power tools. Keep reading to see how engineers turned one of your toolbox's most basic implements into a new-age, gyroscopic gadget.

Spinning the GYRO's Specs

Twist just a fraction of an inch and the GYRO spins into action. Twist in the opposite direction and the GYRO immediately reverses.
Twist just a fraction of an inch and the GYRO spins into action. Twist in the opposite direction and the GYRO immediately reverses.
Courtesy Black & Decker

Many previously established power screwdriver technologies are integrated into the GYRO. The GYRO is meant to be a lightweight, portable and compact tool that can sink its teeth into even the most inaccessible screws in your home. As such, it comes with a light-duty 4-volt Lithium-ion battery pack. Unlike some other rechargeable batteries, you can energize the pack whenever and however you like without worry about battery memory problems.

And the company says the pack will hold its charge for roughly a year and a half, which speaks to the GYRO's purpose of occasional use. There's no battery level indicator whatsoever, though. When the power pack runs low, the device just stops working and an LED blinks a power-hungry distress signal.

In other words, you won't be doing hours of work with this tool. It's meant to help you tighten (or loosen) those sneaky, problematic screws that lurk in every house. To that end, it also has a tiny LED near the business end that illuminates your work area.

Black & Decker throws in two standard screw driving bits with each GYRO. You also receive a two-year warranty that covers any defects.

To use GYRO, you grip differently than most screwdrivers. The pistol-like handle end of GYRO flattens into a smooth, wide surface that settles into the palm of your hand. That big surface is actually one large button, called the motion control activator, and because you'll be pressing into the screw head each time you work, you'll hardly notice it. But unless that activator is depressed, the motor won't work.

In addition to the activator, Black & Decker built in a 45-second shutoff timer. It protects against accidental battery usage in case the motion activator gets jammed against that roll of duct tape in your junk drawer.

Those specs make up the backbone of the GYRO. On the next page, we'll drill down into the details of what makes this device unique to the realm of power tools.

Axis of Power

You won’t see the GYRO on construction sites anytime soon. It’s primarily designed for light duty around the house.
You won’t see the GYRO on construction sites anytime soon. It’s primarily designed for light duty around the house.
Courtesy Black & Decker

In the GYRO, the gyroscope is obviously the spotlight attraction.

When you press the activator button, the gyroscope works in tandem with computer chips to determine where the unit is exactly in space. Then GYRO can detect and measure any changes to its orientation, which it understands as a command to engage the motor.

As for the gyroscope itself, it's an InvenSense ISZ-650, which is a Z-axis integrated MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) gyroscope that's meant to be resistant to the kind of abuse that all power tools face. They gyroscope chip is tiny, at only 4 by 5 by 1.2 millimeters (0.15 by 0.2 by 0.05 inches).

Gyroscopes can be multiple-axis devices -- that is, they can detect movement in any direction. This particular gyroscope, however, is configured primarily to pick up movement along the Z-axis, which in this case is the axis that's parallel to the motor shaft.

So when you engage the motion activator button, the gyroscope and computer chips take a snapshot of the screwdriver's position -- a so-called position zero. As you twist, the gyroscope and rate sensor capture and send angular velocity data to a 16-bit microcontroller. The farther you twist (measured by degrees), the farther and faster the microprocessor commands the electric motor to turn.

One thing about gyroscopes is that they often require a little minor maintenance. GYRO normally completes this calibration process automatically without you even knowing about it. Once in a while, though, you may notice that the directional control isn't working as exactly as you'd like. In that case, you can re-calibrate GYRO by pressing the button and letting it lie undisturbed on flat surface for five seconds. Just like that, your gyroscope -- and your GYRO -- should once again perfectly follow your hand motions.

The gyroscope might sound like a delicate piece of equipment, but in terms of toughness, the company says that this product will absorb the same kind of abuse as any of its other tools.

That means this revolutionary little screwdriver has enough power and durability to last for years. Not bad for a device that's sensitive enough to pick up on your body language.

Author's Note: How Motion-Activated Screwdrivers Work

My dad owned one of the first Black & Decker electric screwdrivers, and I distinctly remember playing with it as a kid. It was one of the very first battery-powered screwdrivers, and thus, not very powerful, but it helped to usher in a new age of powered tools. The same might very well happen with the GYRO. It's easy to imagine high-powered drills, saws and other implements with gyroscopes, which could make them more intuitive to use, and as a result, even more useful and convenient than they already are.

Related Articles

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