DARPA exploring miniature, atomic sensor systems as alternative to GPS

DARPA’s Chip-Scale Combinatorial Atomic Navigator to be part of a group of sensors for navigation, positioning

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The scientists at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency want to develop a sophisticated miniature system of atomic sensors that could help military personnel with  positioning, targeting, navigation, and guidance without relying on current GPS technology.

Specifically DARPA wants to build what it calls a "miniature Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU)" that integrates atomic and solid-state inertial sensors in a single microsystem, with a volume of no more than 20 cubic centimeters and power consumption of no more than 1 Watt (1 W). The IMU, or Chip-Scale Combinatorial Atomic Navigator (C-SCAN)  is actually expected to be part of a group of sensors that communicate using sophisticated  algorithms to do their job.

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" Today, almost all of missions are critically dependent on GPS for achieving the required level of delivery accuracy. When GPS is inaccessible, whether as a result of some type of component or overall system malfunction or as a consequence of deliberate enemy action, critical information with respect to the object's position (latitude/longitude, altitude), bearing/direction, altitude, speed, and timing can only be gathered through self-contained on-board instruments, including gyroscopes for orientation, accelerometers for position, and oscillators for time.

"A preferable solution, however, is to completely eliminate the dependence on GPS or any other external signals during the mission, and rely solely on self-contained solutions such as inertial navigation, which is immune to jamming, spoofing, and other intentional or unintentional modification of information regarding position, orientation, and time. Achieving 20 minutes of free inertial guidance is a major technological challenge faced by small inertial instruments. Solving this problem is of great strategic importance," DARPA stated.

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DARAPA says it expects the program will lead to a new breed of atomic inertial microsystems, with a wider range of operating conditions and greater immunity to the environment, reduced start-up time, increased sensitivity, and improved bias and scale factor stability.

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