US Army Explores GPS Replacement

30 Apr 2013

Image source: http://www.darpa.mil

The US army is in plans to reduce the dependence on GPS and find a replacement for it.

While GPS has been incredibly useful for the US army, other military sectors and for civilian use, an alternative is being sought. The US army wants to reduce the dependence they currently have on GPS technology with a new generation of technology for navigation and tracking purposes that won’t rely on satellites. One of those new technologies is a miniscule autonomous chip smaller than a face of a penny, as announced by the Pentagon research agency.

“The resulting chip 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,” said said Andrei Shkel, DARPA program manager.

The research agency, known as DARPA, are partial brains behind the invention of the Internet, and also had a great impact on developing the original Global Positioning System (GPS). The director of the research group told reporters GPS satellites were originally discovered in the 1980s, which at the time required an enormous box in your vehicle.

Of course as time went on, the technology helped these GPS units become smaller and smaller, ending up with tiny units inside cell phones and other mobile devices. The director of DARPA, Arati Prabhajar, said the GPS aren’t just found in platforms for military use, but weapons as well. She feels that it is such a powerful piece of technology, than the US army is relying on its power too heavily, and it is therefore becoming a vulnerability. Which is what led to her and the US army’s upcoming project in looking for a replacement.

One of the big issues with current GPS technology is that the signal could be scrambled by someone on the other side, such as what happened recently in South Korea. This could be devastating for the US army.

The new technology isn’t new this year; DARPA has been working on developments since 2010. They are currently developing different programs that should help with improved positioning and navigation technology. The first project will be to extend the positioning software to locations GPS satellites didn’t previously go, such as underwater. In the beginning, this was just as a companion to GPS, but now with possible vulnerabilities, the military sectors and DARPA instead want to find a good alternative.

This new autonomous chip with have three accelerators, three gyroscopes and an atomic clock. These elements together create what is known as an autonomous navigation system, as looks to be the first replacement for GPS in the United States. An additional approach they are currently working out is using existing signals as provided by broadcast antennas, telephone towers and lightning to replace GPS on a temporary basis.

Prabhakar told reporters the technology “will not be a monolithic new solution, it will be a series of technologies to track and fix time and position from external sources.” The alternative is looking to improve many vulnerabilities GPS has, including the risk of GPS jamming, failure to reach certain areas, and an overall technological improvement.

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