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US military keen to develop alternative to GPS

US: The US military’s weapons and communications systems rely on global positioning data to determine their locations. But the GPS is becoming more susceptible to jamming during a conflict. To meet this challenge, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched Micro-Technology for Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (Micro-PNT) programme.

Under this programme the department aims to develop an inertial navigation and timing unit that will fit on a microchip. It will allow military gear to function and to know its location without using GPS signals. “We want to get this down to the size of an apple seed,” said Andrei Shkel, Micro-PNT’s programme manager.

According to a report published in Government Computer News, the latest success of Micro-PNT programme is the Chip Scale Atomic Clock (CSAC). Atomic clocks are used to keep very exact time. Prior to the CSAC, the smallest devices were about the size of a microwave oven. CSAC successfully reduced this to the size of a sugar cube. If Micro-PNT can make atomic clocks even smaller, they will begin to be installed on a variety of electronics, such as handheld computers and smart phones.

This would have a major effect on personal navigation because the devices would be able to continue tracking their location even when GPS signals are unavailable, Shkel added.

The Micro-PNT programme is also developing chip-based gyroscopes that may replace fiber-optic gyros now in use. In addition, the programme is examining new types of high-performance gyroscopes—wine-glass-sized devices that are currently very expensive to make and manufacture. In doing so, researchers are studying ancient glass-blowing techniques to create miniaturised, highly accurate navigation systems that could potentially replace GPS on a variety of systems, such as the Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits used to turn unguided bombs into precision munitions, Shkel continued.

Source: GCN