#GIS from a .NET developer's perspective

Using the accelerometer to control planar transforms on Windows Phone 7

Lately I’ve been looking into some Augmented Reality uses on Windows Phone 7, and one of the first things you need to do for this, is to use the sensors to control what’s displayed on the phone screen.

So the first step for me was to better understand how the accelerometer interacted with the phone’s orientation. I wanted to create a simple “3D Plane” that was always looked like it was “level”. This could be accomplished with a Rectangle and a PlaneTransform. The only question is: How do I transform the accelerometer values to the RotationX/Y/Z rotation angles on the PlaneTransform?

To make matters worse, depending on whether your phone is currently in Portrait, LandscapeLeft or LandscapeRight mode, the screen coordinate system, and thus the transforms changes, even though the accelerometer report the values independent of screen orientation. So to get a property transform, we also need to know what way the screen coordinate system is oriented relative to the accelerometer coordinate system.

With a little trigonometry it wasn’t too hard to figure out, so here’s the code to perform this little app.

First the border we used as the “level” plane:

<Border x:Name="plane" BorderBrush="Green" BorderThickness="2"
        Width="350" Height="350" >
        <PlaneProjection x:Name="proj"  />

Next, create an accelerometer instance, and call “Update” every time we get a reading:

var meter = new Accelerometer();
meter.ReadingChanged += meter_ReadingChanged;
private void meter_ReadingChanged(object sender, AccelerometerReadingEventArgs e)
    Dispatcher.BeginInvoke(() =>

Lastly, update the PlaneProjection parameters, based on the rotation (this is where the “real meat” is):

private void UpdateRotation(double x, double y, double z)
    var offset = 0d;
    //Adjust for screen orientation when in landscape mode
    //PortraitUp mode doesn't need an offset
    if (Orientation == PageOrientation.LandscapeLeft) offset = .5;
    else if (Orientation == PageOrientation.LandscapeRight) offset = 1.5;                

    var rx = (Math.Acos(z) / Math.PI + 1) * 180;
    var rz = (offset - Math.Atan2(x, y) / Math.PI + 1) * 180;
    if(!double.IsNaN(rz)) proj.RotationZ = rz;
    if(!double.IsNaN(rx)) proj.RotationX = rx;

And lastly, here’s what this looks like (note how the screen orientation flips when the phone is rotated, but the plane stays in the same place):

Note that this sample doesn’t deal with calibration. I suggest you look at this blogpost on how to do that. It also includes a lot of information on the accelerometer in general. That blog also discusses filtering the noisy data which is important to give a smooth looking result. The sample code you can download below, includes a simple low-pass filter to make it feel a lot smoother.

Download source code

Lastly here’s an example/preview of a little Augmented Reality app I’ve been working on that is using this approach to overlay the camera feed with azimuth values: