I'm struck by how similar this story is to the fantastic book Longitude by Dava Sobel. She chronicles the work of master clock maker John Harrison who developed accurate marine chronometers in the early 1700s that permitted seafaring vessels to determine accurately their east or west distance from the Prime Meridian. Monarchs, astronomers, and elite contemporaries declared the solution was best approached by using precise astronomical observations, complex mathematics, and look-up tables that took hours to calculate. Much like the several "constellations" of current GPS satellites, a chip-scale atomic clock coupled with inertial sensors would be able to provide precise location values when the sky is blocked, obscured by noise, or jammed. Great stuff...
Interesting parallel, william. I worked on some DARPA projects in the past. Many of them do not lead directly to an implementable system. On the other hand I often see parts of these projects show up in various areas years later.
Elizabeth, what I am wondering is, does DARPA feel they are close on this? I appreciate the problem they are trying to resolve. Is there anything close to what they are looking for on the atomic inertial sensor? It seems from the article that the issue is using these sensors effectively together in the target environment.
Great point, @naperlou. I wrote about atomic-scale atomic clocks back in 2006. I'm guessing this DARPA project is concentrating on their integration with inertial sensors to form a single chip which is capable of determining exact location using internal sensors and precise time only. Quite an ambitious, but wide-application proposition...
If it's indeed true that this technology would be less expensive than GPS, would it make sense for autonomous vehicles to employ it someday? Right now, I think the plan is to use gyroscope-based dead-reckoning systems in autonomous vehicles for those moments when GPS is unavailable.
About 2 years ago there was an article on the NIST web-site about research into atomic scale multi-axis accelerometers. Since then I've seen several other references to this technology. It would seem that the DARPA request for proposal would be the next logical step. Hopefully, unlike Harrison in Search for Longitude, there will be an open-minded scientific community ready to embrace this technology.
I thought laser ring gyros were the latest. It seems there is no end to the innovations that are possible as we miniaturize the technologies we can apply to a given problem.
I was surprised to see how cheap these 6 degree of freedom sensors were when I saw the quadcopters and arduino boards working together. Being able to accurately measure the velocity in and acceleration in 3-D allows the quadcopters, or any other device so equipped to perform very interesting tasks.
I was lead to believe that GPS with a fixed reference could be accurate to within 6 inches or so. Using only satellites I think it is artifically constrained to a meter or so by military consideratins which may or may not still apply.
Once this positioning data can be determined to about 6 inches I think the cars can benefit in terms of auto driving vehicles. When this can be put on a chip and mass produced it probably will cost a few nickels to add to your current poistioning solution if the military allows it to be used commercially.
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