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British military looking to replace GPS


The British military is working on a new technology they call ‘quantum compass’ to either supplement or even replace the already entrenched Global Positioning System – GPS – used to provide accurate location services in about any gadget from car sat-navs and tracking devices to mobile phones and cameras.

The British Ministry of Defence – MoD – started working on an alternative Earth-bound navigation system because GPS doesn’t work under water and hence makes difficult the tracking of submerged submarines.

In the case of submarines GPS functions by calculating the distance from its last known GPS location combined with a set of accelerometers monitoring its movements. As one might gather, the system isn’t terribly accurate especially because submarines tend to suffer navigation drift of around one kilometer every day that they’re under water.

The idea of the quantum compass uses lasers to hold and cool atoms to within a milionth of a degree of absolute zero, that’s -273.15 degrees Celcius, really-really cold, basically the coldest objects in the known universe. At this incredibly low temperature, atoms slow down incredibly and become extremely sensitive to any changes in the Earth’s gravitiational and magnetic fields. By replacing accelerometers with a quantum compass it is hoped to reduce a submarine’s daily navigational drift rate to about a metre.

The current generation of the quantum compass occupies the space of a ‘metre-long shoe box’ and while you can find space for that on a submarine, possible commercial applications will require a reduced size.

This technology is a good alternative to the current GPS system considering that this latter one is suscpetivle to direct attack or malicious jamming, not to mention the fact that it can be entirely or selectively shut down at any point by the US government.

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