In most introductory physics courses, the first equations encountered are the kinematic equations. Though the emphasis at this level tends to be on cases of constant acceleration, many real-world examples of motion are not so simple. We describe the use of inexpensive hobbyist-grade accelerometers and spreadsheet software to explore inertial navigation via numerical integration of the measured acceleration.

1.
Lawrence E.
L’Hote
, “
Large Scale Use of a Liquid-Surface Accelerometer
,”
Phys. Teach.
13
,
100
101
(
1975
).
2.
David P.
Jackson
, “
Rendering the Not-So-Simple Pendulum Experimentally Accessible
,”
Phys. Teach.
34
,
86
89
(
1996
).
3.
J. L.
Hunt
, “
Accurate experiment for measuring the ratio of specific heats of gases using an accelerometer
,”
Am. J. Phys.
53
(
7
),
696
697
(
1985
).
4.
Stefano
Alberghi
,
Alessandro
Foschi
,
Giovanni
Pezzi
, and
Fabio
Ortolani
, “
Is It More Thrilling to Ride at the Front or the Back of a Roller Coaster
,”
Phys. Teach.
45
,
536
541
(
2007
).
5.
J. L.
Hunt
, “
Forced and damped harmonic oscillator experiment using an accelerometer
,”
Am. J. Phys.
53
(
3
),
278
279
(
1985
).
6.
Clifton
Albergotti
, “
Real-World Physics: A Portable MBL for Field Measurements
,”
Phys. Teach.
32
,
206
209
(
1994
).
7.
David
Simmons
and
Robert R.
Speers
, “
Magnetic Damping of a Mass-Spring Vertical Accelerometer
,”
Phys. Teach.
35
,
49
50
(
1997
).
8.
Data collection programs written in Visual Basic 6 are available for download at http://www.chemphys.armstrong.edu/baird/accel.graph.exe for a 2-D accelerometer and http://www.chemphys.armstrong.edu/baird/accel.3D.graph.exe for the 3-D model.
9.
A sample spreadsheet containing data from one of the elevator trials is available for download at http://www.chemphys.armstrong.edu/baird/elevator.acceleration.xls.
10.
J. L.
Safko
, “
Error analysis of straight line plots in the undergraduate physics laboratory
,”
Am. J. Phys.
33
(
5
),
379
382
(
1965
).
AAPT members receive access to the American Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher as a member benefit. To learn more about this member benefit and becoming an AAPT member, visit the Joining AAPT page.