US army seeks new technology to replace GPS

Apr 25, 2013
US Air Force Captain Tyler Rennell (3rd right) explaining to Afghan pilots how to use a GPS instrument at the Kandahar military airbase on October 11, 2009. The US army is working to limit its dependence on GPS by developing the next generation of navigation technology, including a tiny autonomous chip, the director of the Pentagon's research agency said.

The US army is working to limit its dependence on GPS by developing the next generation of navigation technology, including a tiny autonomous chip, the director of the Pentagon's research agency said Wednesday.

DARPA, the research group behind a range of spy tech and which helped invent the Internet, was also the driving force behind the creation of the , director Arati Prabhakar said at a press conference.

"In the 1980s, when started to become widely deployed... it meant carrying an enormous box around on your vehicle," she said.

"Now it's got to the point where it's embedded not just in all our platforms but in many of our weapons," as well as in many civilian devices, she said.

But "sometimes a capability is so powerful that our reliance on it, in itself, becomes a vulnerability," she added.

"I think that's where we are today with GPS."

Among the fears: the could be scrambled by an adversary, as happened recently in South Korea.

Starting in 2010, DARPA has been working on a variety of programs aimed at developing new navigation and positioning technology—at first with the goal of extending their reach to places where satellites don't work, such as underwater.

But now, amid fears of over-reliance on—and possible vulnerabilities with—global positioning satellites, experts are looking to create not just a companion, but an alternative to GPS.

To that end, researchers at DARPA and the University of Michigan have created a new system that works without satellites to determine position, time and direction, all contained within a eight-cubic-millimeter chip.

The holds three , three accelerometers and an , which, together, work as an system.

DARPA envisages using this technology to replace GPS in some contexts, especially in small-caliber ammunition or for monitoring people.

Another approach would use existing signals, such as those generated by broadcast antennas, radios, telephone towers and even lightning to temporarily replace GPS.

Prabhakar emphasized there "will not be a monolithic new solution, it will be a series of technologies to track and fix time and position from external sources."

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User comments : 5

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Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Apr 25, 2013
Does anyone remember when 3-axis laser-gyros and accelerometers made an Inertial Nav System?
Bob_Kob
not rated yet Apr 25, 2013
Must have to be incredibly accurate. Even the slightest error would magnify over some time.

Unless there was a periodic update?
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 25, 2013
Does anyone remember when 3-axis laser-gyros and accelerometers made an Inertial Nav System?

Such guidance systems are used in submarines during deep dives.
Getting that thing miniaturized to a cube with 2mm on a side is pretty nifty trick, though.

For short distance navigation it's fairly accurate. The use of such system for military applications lies more in the immediate battlefield environment - not for long range navigation. Battlefield environments are more likely to have active GPS jamming (or even GPS spoofing) going on. If you rely on GPS guided stuff there it may fail (bet case) - or be guided back to you (worst case).

So this is something they'll use in drones and/or (semi-)guided munitions during operations. Possibly for long range drones/munitions on the last leg of the journey.
trekgeek1
not rated yet Apr 26, 2013
Must have to be incredibly accurate. Even the slightest error would magnify over some time.

Unless there was a periodic update?


Which is kind of the basis for Kalman filtering. You measure a quantity such as position with multiple sensors working off different operating principles. You account for the quality of each sensor's measurements and through extrapolation and correction, determine your measured quantity with greater precision than possible with a single sensor.

I wonder what would happen if the cubes communicated with each other and could, for instance, filter out drift by assuming that all members of the same platoon are moving in the same direction. Or if the response time indicated the absolute distance between cubes accurately, then you could determine if the path of two cubes was diverging or converging. You may be able to get a better heading if you know you must be heading in the same direction. Some great math to be done there!
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2013
I wonder what would happen if the cubes communicated with each other and could, for instance,

It's the old problem of accuracy vs. precision.
Averaging out several sensors with identical characteristics doesn't give you better accuracy. It only (maybe) gives you better precision.

It's like flipping coins. The more coins you flip the more probable it is that you are RELATIVELY close (as a percentage of coins) to the expected average. That's your precision.
But the ABSOLUTE divergence from the average remains uncertain (and is even likely to increase with the number of coins). That's your accuracy.

Another example would be the length of the chinese emperor's nose. Ask many people and you get a very good average (high precision). But since he lived in the forbidden city no one has seen him (no ground truth) therefore your accuracy could be very good or very bad or anywhere in between.