Extreme miniaturization: Seven devices, one chip to navigate without GPS

Apr 11, 2013

The U.S. Military relies on the space-based Global Positioning System (GPS) to aid air, land and sea navigation. Like the GPS units in many automobiles today, a simple receiver and some processing power is all that is needed for accurate navigation. But, what if the GPS satellites suddenly became unavailable due to malfunction, enemy action or simple interference, such as driving into a tunnel? Unavailability of GPS would be inconvenient for drivers on the road, but could be disastrous for military missions. DARPA is working to protect against such a scenario, and an emerging solution is much smaller than the navigation instruments in today's defense systems.

DARPA researchers at the University of Michigan have made significant progress with a timing & inertial measurement unit (TIMU) that contains everything needed to aid navigation when GPS is temporarily unavailable. The single chip TIMU prototype contains a six axis IMU (three gyroscopes and three accelerometers) and integrates a highly-accurate master clock into a single miniature system, smaller than the size of a penny. This chip integrates breakthrough devices (clocks, gyroscopes and accelerometers), materials and designs from DARPA's Micro-Technology for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (Micro-PNT) program.

Three pieces of information are needed to navigate between known points 'A' and 'B' with precision: orientation, acceleration and time. This new chip integrates state-of-the-art devices that can measure all three simultaneously. This elegant design is accomplished through new fabrication processes in high-quality materials for multi-layered, packaged inertial sensors and a timing unit, all in a tiny 10 cubic millimeter package. Each of the six microfabricated layers of the TIMU is only 50 microns thick, approximately the thickness of a human hair. Each layer has a different function, akin to floors in a building.

"Both the structural layer of the sensors and the integrated package are made of silica," said Andrei Shkel, DARPA program manager. "The hardness and the high-performance material properties of silica make it the material of choice for integrating all of these devices into a miniature package. The resulting TIMU is small enough and should be robust enough for applications (when GPS is unavailable or limited for a short period of time) such as personnel tracking, handheld navigation, small diameter munitions and small airborne platforms."

The goal of the Micro-Technology for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (Micro-PNT) program is to develop technology for self-contained, chip-scale inertial and precision guidance. Other recent breakthroughs from Micro-PNT include new microfabrication methods and materials for inertial sensors.

Explore further: Student develops filter for clean water around the world

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New micro gyro technology for DARPA to be developed

May 24, 2011

The Georgia Institute of Technology, in partnership with Northrop Grumman Corporation, has been selected to develop a new type of Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) gyroscope technology for the Defense Advanced Research ...

GPS not working? A shoe radar may help you find your way

Dec 01, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The prevalence of global positioning system (GPS) devices in everything from cars to cell phones has almost made getting lost a thing of the past. But what do you do when your GPS isn’t working? Researchers ...

Recommended for you

Student develops filter for clean water around the world

23 hours ago

Roughly 780 million people around the world have no access to clean drinking water. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.4 million people die from water-related diseases every year. ETH student Jeremy Nussbaumer ...

Minimising drag to maximise results

Jul 23, 2014

One of the most exciting parts of the Tour de France for spectators is the tactical vying for spots in the breakaway group at the front of the pack.

User comments : 0