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Is It Really GPS If It Doesn't Use Satellites?

Soulskill posted about a month ago | from the is-it-really-a-hot-dog-if-it's-not-made-from-dogs? dept.

The Military 298

cartechboy writes: "GPS was originally developed by the military, but today it's in your smartphones, and soon, possibly your watches. Now the British military is developing something called quantum compass. The concept is a GPS-style navigation for submarines that doesn't use satellites. The quantum compass uses the movements of super-cooled subatomic particles to pinpoint a vessel's location. These particles, stored in a vacuum, react to the Earth's magnetic field. The movements caused by this interaction can be used for location positioning. At the moment, the Ministry of Defense's prototype resembles a '1-meter long shoe box,' so the next step is to miniaturize it. It could then be used by individual soldiers, as well as huge ships and submarines. Not only is it useful, but it's secure too—the technology is apparently interference-proof. Is this the future of navigation systems, or the reinvention of the compass? Possibly both."

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298 comments

Man-portable supercooling? (4, Insightful)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a month ago | (#47066187)

Good luck with that.

Re:Man-portable supercooling? (5, Interesting)

tippe (1136385) | about a month ago | (#47066505)

The supercooling is apparently done using lasers, so something that is man-portable is maybe realistic

The DSTL's team was inspired by the Nobel-prize winning discovery that revealed that lasers can trap and cool a cloud of atoms placed in a vacuum to less than a millionth of a degree above absolute zero

Re:Man-portable supercooling? (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | about a month ago | (#47066535)

Yeah, I'm guessing they didn't include the cooling apparatus in the 'shoebox' dimensions.

Re:Man-portable supercooling? (4, Funny)

jellomizer (103300) | about a month ago | (#47066609)

Doesn't anyone listen to the Doctor. Whenever the Brits make advanced technology meant to be shared with the world for the common, it is part of some evil plot to take over the human race! Why don't they just call it Asmos.

Re:Man-portable supercooling? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066835)

Good luck with that.

Thermal imagers do it.

Well ... (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about a month ago | (#47066195)

Does it provide you with an accurate position on the globe?

As far as I know GPS means "global positioning system", and doesn't include the word satellite.

Re:Well ... (5, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a month ago | (#47066393)

GPS specifically refers to the system created by the US military for tracking your position using a bunch of satellites they put up there. Just because the acronym expands out to something rather generic doesn't mean it doesn't mean a specific implementation. FTP expands out to File Transfer Protocol. That doesn't mean that bittorrent is FTP because it's also a protocol for transferring files. There are other systems like GLONASS that help you determine you position, and also use satellites. But it would be confusing to call them both GPS, because GPS refers to a specific implementation. If you're going to call things that aren't GPS as GPS, then you might as well call navigating by the stars GPS.

Re:Well ... (1, Insightful)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about a month ago | (#47066543)

GPS specifically refers to the system created by the US military for tracking your position using a bunch of satellites they put up there.

This is only true because before the array of satellites deployed by the US military, there was no other system for finding your global position. With the advent of new technology that does the same thing, GPS should be generalized to refer to any system that does the same, not just one particular system.

Re:Well ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066581)

there was no other system for finding your global position

Yeah, real men never ask for directions, or where they are...

Re:Well ... (3, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | about a month ago | (#47066657)

Exactly, and when you use the Russian system you dont use GPS. you use GLONASS. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G... [wikipedia.org]

Re:Well ... (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a month ago | (#47066663)

How do you think they sailed across the sea and circumnavigated the globe hundreds of years ago? They were able to look at the position of the stars, and calculate quite accurately where they were on the earth. The sextant [wikipedia.org] was often used for sailors to determine their position out at sea. It could be accurate within a few nautical miles. which is pretty good considering the technology at the time.

Re:Well ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066691)

"because before the array of satellites deployed by the US military, there was no other system for finding your global position"

Don't be ridiculous. Of course there was. It just didn't use man made satellites.

Re:Well ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066943)

"because before the array of satellites deployed by the US military, there was no other system for finding your global position"

Don't be ridiculous. Of course there was. It just didn't use man made satellites.

Actually man actually created the universe. Some of the scientifica got a bit drunk one night and made a pretty big mistake and the surviving population ended up on earth.

Re:Well ... (4, Funny)

NatasRevol (731260) | about a month ago | (#47066617)

you might as well call navigating by the stars GPS

That'd be galactic positioning system.

Re:Well ... (4, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | about a month ago | (#47066803)

"Non-Satellite GPS Could Soon Be A Thing"

that's the only fucking thing on the article that refers to it as "gps". other references are "gps like".

if wanting to be a total troll about it, I think it remains to be seen if us military will call this sort of positioning GPS or not.

Re:Well ... (2)

Nosretep1 (3620103) | about a month ago | (#47066857)

It like using kleenex instead of tissue, or hoovering instead of vacuum. It is a brand name.

Re:Well ... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066901)

GPS specifically refers to the system created by the US military for tracking your position using a bunch of satellites they put up there. Just because the acronym expands out to something rather generic doesn't mean it doesn't mean a specific implementation... If you're going to call things that aren't GPS as GPS, then you might as well call navigating by the stars GPS.

Older GPS technologies were used before the satellite based systems. Just because most of the system in place today use satellites doesn't mean other GPS technologies can't use the term.

Maybe the British will call it GPS-ql

Does it give you a position on the globe? (2)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about a month ago | (#47066197)

Then it's a "Global Positioning System"... GPS.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (0)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a month ago | (#47066281)

A map gives you a position on a globe.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (4, Informative)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about a month ago | (#47066355)

A map is not a system.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066475)

A map is not a system.

The use of laying a map on a flat surface or holding it in the air and making use of visual clues on at least one side of it to determine your position is a "system".

But mod this way the heck up... http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=5191193&cid=47066393

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

cstacy (534252) | about a month ago | (#47066825)

The use of laying a map on a flat surface or holding it in the air and making use of visual clues on at least one side of it to determine your position is a "system".

Driving over to the USPTO in Alexandria right now!

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066479)

Cartography is

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (2)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about a month ago | (#47066503)

Cartography produces a map, not a localization.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066519)

No but a map, compass, and trained operator are.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about a month ago | (#47066629)

Maybe. When I think of the word "system" it usually implies automation to me. Humans are unreliable, use a lot of intuition, and often give different outputs for the same inputs, so they are usually not a good idea to incorporate into any sort of "system" you want to be reliable and consistent.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a month ago | (#47066705)

If you think humans are the unreliable thing, you've never met my Magellan. Half the time, I couldn't use it to circumnavigate a town.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066999)

A system is a process or mechanism for performing a task. It does not require there be automation involved.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about a month ago | (#47066667)

Military grids on a map IS a system. and it is the most commonly used map based navagation system out there you call out over the radio your grind numbers and the other person can easily know what you mean.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about a month ago | (#47066723)

So if I kidnap you and drop you out of a plane at a random location in the world with nothing but an atlas of the world, how do you tell me your location to the nearest 10 meters just using a map?

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

Wookact (2804191) | about a month ago | (#47066915)

If you have the correct map for the area you are in, and you can spot landmarks, or perhaps even an intersection. Then yes, I can figure out where I am. Land nav class in the military actually has exercises in that. My unit didn't even have GPS devices until we deployed. Everything was a map, a compass, a protractor and a good pace count.

Sure if you are dropped in the middle of the Saraha with a world atlas and no idea of your general location, or even what country you are in then you would be SOL. That does not happen though.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a month ago | (#47066447)

A map gives you a position on a globe.

It doesn't just give it to you, although it may let you find it.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a month ago | (#47066717)

Well a GPS does not give it to you unless you know how to read.

Also, I have seen many maps with "- You are Here", markers. But they tend to have a more limited range than the average GPS.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066509)

Mine must be broken then. I keep asking it to tell me where I am, but the dumb piece of paper just lays there.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a month ago | (#47066675)

A map gives you a position on a globe.

No, a map gives you a picture.

If I dump you in an arbitrary spot on planet Earth with just a map ... unless you have some mad skills, you will likely have NO idea of your position simply from the map.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about a month ago | (#47066797)

A map gives you a position on a globe.

Okay, I've got my map of Beleriand from the Silmarillion right here. How do a get a position on a globe from this? (Keep in mind that this is a map of a world that quite literally flat)

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

arth1 (260657) | about a month ago | (#47066451)

Then it's a "Global Positioning System"... GPS.

Note the capital letters. Those are significant. GPS is one particular global positioning system named Global Positioning System.

Other geodesic systems aren't GPS any more than Dell is IBM because they too sell international business machines.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about a month ago | (#47066585)

Capital letters are used to denote any acronym whether it's a proper noun or not. IMU refers to any inertial measurement unit, for instance.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a month ago | (#47066715)

But when expanded, it retains the capital letters. Which denotes a proper noun (name of the system). Unlike you're IMU example.

Re:Does it give you a position on the globe? (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about a month ago | (#47066789)

Oh I see now. Then I propose we need to retire Global Positioning System in favor of global positioning system.

Capitals are your friend (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about a month ago | (#47066665)

Then it's a "Global Positioning System"... GPS.

There is no doubt that it is a "global positioning system". It just isn't the "Global Positioning System".

What kind of question is that? (3, Interesting)

Enry (630) | about a month ago | (#47066201)

Of course it is. It's Global Positioning System, not GLONASS Points South. Doesn't matter how you know where you are, as long as you know where you are with some accuracy. It's unlikely this method will be as accurate as using an actual satellite-based GPS, but probably good enough for submarines that can stay under for months at a time.

How would this be used by individuals? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066247)

The way this thing sounds, the particles in the system have to be constantly kept "super-cooled". How low that is, I don't know, but it sounds like it's below the freezing point (32F/0C). This sounds like the kind of thing that takes a lot of energy and an always-on power source (nuclear reactors in a submarine) to maintain, and that wouldn't work very well with batteries.

Not GPS (5, Informative)

Megane (129182) | about a month ago | (#47066263)

Nope. [wikipedia.org]

Sounds like more like an inertial navigation system, [wikipedia.org] but one that uses the Earth's magnetic field instead of just being shaken around.

Re:Not GPS (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about a month ago | (#47066489)

Exactly. And so, of course, you need a computer (and a UPS) to perform the dead reckoning. No biggie, since we're already postulating super-cooling in a wristwatch form factor.

Re:Not GPS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066751)

This is the backup "GPS" system in military aircraft, and what we used before GPS

Re:Not GPS (4, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | about a month ago | (#47066843)

It is not clear from the article whether or not this is ultimately an inertial system, but if so it's a huge leap beyond the current ones:

It's a great deal more accurate than the current method used by submariners, which relies on accelerometers to pick up a vessel's movement while underwater. The accuracy difference is enough that a vessel surfacing after a day could be within three feet of its intended position--rather than up to a mile off.

It sounds potentially very exciting. (Yet once again, 99% of the slashdot comments are debating the phrasing of the clickbait headline, instead of talking about the technology itself and potential impacts. It's really disappointing.)

Re:Not GPS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47067011)

It'd be a huge advantage for planes. The intertial guidance systems on those are notoriously hard to work with.

Durability? (0)

Dimwit (36756) | about a month ago | (#47066271)

Existing GPS systems can be essentially all solid-state. There are no moving parts, and the temperature tolerance can be made to handle pretty extreme tempteratures.

Existing technology isn't going to make something like this durable. I don't know enough abou laser cooling, but that might be the best bet and even it probably has a lot of fairly-easy-to-encounter failure modes.

Re:Durability? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066463)

How could you possibly make a GPS reciever that *isn't* solid state? It's just a radio reciever and some software to process it.

Re:Durability? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066517)

I hear they made radio receivers before the invention of solid state technology.

Kids these days.

Re:Durability? (3, Funny)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a month ago | (#47066849)

Could build the input stage with valves. It'll make your location sound better.

Re:Durability? (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about a month ago | (#47066559)

Existing GPS systems can be essentially all solid-state. There are no moving parts, and the temperature tolerance can be made to handle pretty extreme tempteratures.

So, honest question ... at what depth does the satellite signal from the GPS system penetrate water? Is it affected by surface conditions? Is it less than the average depth of a submarine?

My guess, if the existing GPS stuff was adequate for their needs, they wouldn't be looking into doing this.

From the article:

The movements caused by this interaction can be used for location positioning. It's a great deal more accurate than the current method used by submariners, which relies on accelerometers to pick up a vessel's movement while underwater. The accuracy difference is enough that a vessel surfacing after a day could be within three feet of its intended position--rather than up to a mile off.

Sounds to me like they don't rely on GPS at all, and quite likely because it's useless under water.

Re:Durability? (4, Informative)

Lumpy (12016) | about a month ago | (#47066695)

About 3 inches. The GPS satellites transmit signals on two carrier frequencies. The L1 carrier is 1575.42 MHz and carries both the status message and a pseudo-random code for timing. The L2 carrier is 1227.60 MHz and is used for the more precise military data stream

Salt water attenuates 1.5ghz signals quite effectively.

Re:Durability? (3, Interesting)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a month ago | (#47066875)

Salt water attenuates all radio quite effectively, except for VLF, which is cumbersome to work with.

Re:Durability? (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a month ago | (#47066793)

Satellite frequencies range from 1176.45 MHz for the L5 band to 1575.42 MHz for the L1 band, although it looks like only L1 and L2 (1227.60 MHz) are really used for the actual positioning. But then I saw a bunch of math I didn't understand, so I skipped to Wikipedia's Submarine Navigation page and it lists GPS as "Surface and Near-Surface", which is described as no more than periscope depth.

For smartphone? Don't think so... (1)

seven of five (578993) | about a month ago | (#47066275)

If the technology depends on ultracooled atoms, how's a smartphone supposed to keep them cool?

Re:For smartphone? Don't think so... (1, Funny)

WoodstockJeff (568111) | about a month ago | (#47066381)

By having a stellar array of really cool apps! Not lame ones, like Facebook or Twitter.

depends. (4, Informative)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | about a month ago | (#47066277)

Are we saying Global Positioning System, capitalized and considered a Proper Noun?
Then, no.

Are we saying global positionin system, a generalized term for systems that give you position data on the globe?
Then yes.

LORAN, EPLRS (when used as it was actually created for instead of a mesh data network), VORTAC, and probably many other systems were all generic positioning systems.

If the earths magnetic field moves (and it does), then won't this system also be affected?

Re:depends. (4, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | about a month ago | (#47066529)

Are we saying global positionin system, a generalized term for systems that give you position data on the globe?
Then yes.

In that case, we're causing confusion, and should be using the already existing word - geodesy/geodesics.

Using a well-known noun as if it were a generic term causes problems. People who ask what brand of xerox machine you have should be taken out and shot, and so should people who say GPS for other things than, well, GPS.

Re:depends. (2)

DERoss (1919496) | about a month ago | (#47066587)

If the earths magnetic field moves (and it does), then won't this system also be affected?

I was going to ask the same question. It's bad enough that the earth's poles of rotation describe circles, loops, and spirals some meters across over a year. The earth's magnetic field is even more dynamic. Responding to solar storms, the magnetic field lines can shift many meters in a few hours.

In my lifetime, the north magnetic pole has shifted several kilometers, from an island in the Arctic Ocean to a peninsula in Canada. Furthermore, shifts by the south magnetic pole are not synchronized with shifts by the north magnetic pole.

From the description, the device would say that you are moving while you are actually standing still.

Re:depends. (2)

Rei (128717) | about a month ago | (#47066851)

They talk about magnetic fields, but I think what they're proposing is actually based on fluctuations on the gravitational field. You can build a precise map of local gravitational fields and combine it with dead reckoning and/or other rough positioning mechanisms to determine a precise position. And there's no plausible way to tamper with the local gravitational field.

If it's doing an ultraprecise measurement of the magnetic field too, that's a possibility, although I can't picture a system that works only based on the magnetic field because you could just be moving along field lines and show no change, and the weak magnetic field of Earth is easy to tamper with. Drift is the least of your worries; I'm sure they could come up with some compensation system for that.

As mentioned elsewhere, if you're keeping supercooled particles in your home GPS, that means a source of power. However, it doesn't sound like it needs to be an always-on source of power, you could just re-cool the particles as needed. If it's just a miniscule quantity of particles requiring cooling, it could conceivably be fast and low power to cool them - then you take your field measurement(s), then let them thermalize again until you want your next reading. Assumedly the cooling lasers would be diode lasers, as they're very efficient and you can make them very small. I can easily picture something like that mounted on a chip. The system could even conceivably be much lower power than GPS - if you only need it on for a fraction of a millisecond, for example, that'd be a huge advantage over GPS where you have to leave it on for long periods while it tries to receive and download the low-gain data from GPS satellites.

Re:depends. (1)

neglogic (877820) | about a month ago | (#47067065)

I'm amazed that someone on Slashdot knows about EPLRS and furthermore knows that it was initially intended for positioning only.

Jamming-proof (1)

wattersa (629338) | about a month ago | (#47066289)

The good thing about this technology is that it's also jamming-proof. If the U.S. and Russia ever get in a war, the first thing either side would do is knock out the other's GPS satellites with anti-satellite missiles, or conduct a cyber war. At that point, communications and positioning will be critical, making it important not to rely on a centralized network. Sure, GPS has multiple satellites, but if a cyber weapon knocks enough of them out, subs would have to go back to navigating by the stars and compass!

Jamming proof???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066619)

From the description it uses the earths magnetic field. That can be easily tampered with

Re:Jamming proof???? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a month ago | (#47066763)

Yes, but you'd have to know approximately where the submarine is before you can make a large magnetic disturbance nearby. Also, I would think that generating such a large magnetic disturbance would make you easy to find as well.

Re:Jamming proof???? (2)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a month ago | (#47066873)

You only need a tiny disturbance. Drop magnetized microscopic chaff that stays aloft, or in solution...

Ahm.... (1)

jythie (914043) | about a month ago | (#47066307)

How is 'GPS' coming into this at all? In what way is it 'GPS-style'?

This sounds like a new variation of how submarines's have been navigating for decades. They already have a device that measures movement without satellites using gyroscopes that works pretty well, and this sounds like it is filling the same basic function except using the background magnetic field.

So it is a cool (no pun intended) piece of tech, but I am not understanding why it is being compared to a completely different technology like this.

Re:Ahm.... (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about a month ago | (#47066349)

This sounds like a new variation of how submarines's have been navigating for decades.

(Please don't let him spell it "dead" reckoning. Please don't let him spell it "dead" reckoning. Please don't let him spell it "dead" reckoning. ...)

Re:Ahm.... (1)

Simon Brooke (45012) | about a month ago | (#47066573)

Dead reckoning - navigation where you have no accurate fix - has been around for literally hundreds of years, and it is spelled 'dead reckoning' - because it's reckoning (of position) without a live fix. When I learned to navigate small boats fifty years ago, it was still pretty standard - because sun sights are awkward, and in any case using sun sights alone you can't get two position lines at the same time, so you have to do a running fix [sailtrain.co.uk] (which involves some dead reckoning). Even in coastal navigation you can't always get bearings on two good landmarks at the same time.

Summary Doesn't Make Sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066335)

Of course, I DRTFA, but the summary is flawed. If it's a magnetic compass, how could it be immune to interference? Also, inertial navigation, as by ring laser gyro, is much more accurate than any sort of compass. But, alas, I DRTFA, since the summary wasn't encouraging.

Re:Summary Doesn't Make Sense (2)

arth1 (260657) | about a month ago | (#47066659)

If it's a magnetic compass, how could it be immune to interference?

Electromagnetic fields peter off very quickly, so while interference is certainly possible, you either have to be quite close or be able to produce an enormous sized field to be able to override the earth's magnetic field. Creating country-sized EM fields is to my knowledge not technology available to any military.

Light on facts (4, Insightful)

Captain_Chaos (103843) | about a month ago | (#47066339)

The article is very unclear about how exactly these supercooled atomic particles tell them where they are on the globe. The impression I get is that it's just a more accurate form of inertial navigation. Or perhaps it compares the local magnetic and gravitational fields against some map of the Earth? I don't see how that would be immune to interference though, especially the magnetic part. And it would rely on an extremely accurate magnetic/gravitational map of the entire planet, which would have to be kept up to date as well as both those fields are constantly changing. Sounds very unpractical.

I'll be very interested to see if something comes of this or if it will just turn out to be hot air and/or inaccurate reporting...

Re:Light on facts (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47067019)

The article is very unclear about how exactly these supercooled atomic particles tell them where they are on the globe.

I contacted the British government. They'll be releasing detailed technical papers to Slashdot members shortly.

Earth's Magnetic Field...interference proof (1)

orlanz (882574) | about a month ago | (#47066359)

How does something that operates based on a Earth's weak magnetic field prevent interference? They put "quantum" in the sentence, did they mean gravitation field?

Source (0)

ljhiller (40044) | about a month ago | (#47066363)

Why are we learning about this system from "Voice of Russia" ?

Put a magnet next to it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066367)

It uses the earths magnetic field? So what's to stop you jamming or spoofing it via a stronger local source?

stable magnetic field (4, Interesting)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about a month ago | (#47066373)

I'm kind of surprised that Earth's magnetic field is stable enough for this to work well. Or if nothing else, wouldn't local magnetic field disturbances goof it up?

Re:stable magnetic field (2)

NotInHere (3654617) | about a month ago | (#47066613)

I assume they will need some sort of a "magnetic map" of the earth.

Re:stable magnetic field (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47067025)

The best we have is the IGRF [wikipedia.org] , but this would be no where near accurate enough. From NOAA [noaa.gov] :

If you measure the magnetic field at a point on the Earth's surface, do not expect to get the value predicted by the IGRF! Quite apart from the errors discussed above, there might be fixed contributions from buildings, parked cars, etc., and the magnetization of crustal rocks will certainly add its own local, small-scale, field, typically of magnitude 200 nT, but often much larger. There are also a large variety of time-varying fields, both man-made (traffic, DC electric trains and trams, etc.) and natural (from electric currents in the ionosphere and magnetosphere), and the associated induced fields from currents induced in the conducting earth. The ionospheric and magnetospheric fields occur at time scales mostly ranging from seconds to hours; in "quiet" conditions they may be as small as 20 nT (though enhanced near the geomagnetic equator and over the polar caps), but up to 1000 nT and more during a magnetic storm. On a longer time scale (days to years), the large-scale magnetic field of the external ring current (approximately represented by the Dst index) will give perhaps 1000 nT during and after a magnetic storm.

1 meter shoe box? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066383)

Ed Sullivan would say that's a really big shoe.

How new is this? (2)

wisebabo (638845) | about a month ago | (#47066403)

A long time ago I saw something that (according to the caption on the photo) was an inertial guidance unit for SLBMs. It was an instrumented(?) sphere that floated in liquid helium 4 which, at that temperature, was a superfluid (which I guess is a kind of quantum effect). This was to compensate for the motion of the submarine AND the flight of the SLBM because in a nuclear war I guess you can't count on any external sensors like a star tracker working. Since this sphere was suspended in a frictionless fluid presumably any frictional losses would be zero (and I guess very precise accelerometers could do the rest).

Now that I think of it, this might have been B.S. (how does one keep liquid helium 4 a liquid in a device, a solid fueled rocket, that you don't want to have to keep constantly maintained?). Still, "maybe" it actually worked, in which case why don't they just use this system in the sub? Are the running out of helium-4? (I think it's a rare isotope of a scarce gas).

Re:How new is this? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066491)

Sounds like a lot of trouble to create a system that's ultimately inferior to the Ring Laser Gyroscope (which was made for this very purpose).

Re:How new is this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066525)

Helium-4 is the most common isotope of Helium.

I don;t see this working out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066443)

To get to your destination with quantum compass:

Make both a left and right at the corner of First and Main.

Re:I don;t see this working out (1)

hubie (108345) | about a month ago | (#47066507)

Aaagh! That's where I screwed up! I knew I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque!

Magnetic fields? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066461)

If it's based off magnetic fields, it's useless. I can buy a reasonably priced electromagnetometer today which can tell me incredibly precisely the magnetic fields. So much so that I can roll a chair across the room and watch it track the chair. However, that's the problem, there is not a strong relationship between magnetic fields and north. Sure, it's enough to get your compass within 5 degrees, but when you're looking for 0.01 degree, it's not even close.

Furthermore, GPSless positioning isn't an unsolved problem. There are AHRS out there now that do this just fine. They're expensive and ITAR controlled, but smaller than this 1m shoebox.

THIS JUST IN (0)

Nerrd (1094283) | about a month ago | (#47066483)

British Navy Invents Dead-reckoning.

I'm skeptical (3, Informative)

fewnorms (630720) | about a month ago | (#47066541)

These particles, stored in a vacuum, react to the Earth's magnetic field.

... it's secure too—the technology is apparently interference-proof.

I work for a company that deals with inertial navigation systems, specifically systems based on mechanical gyroscopes. The reason we use gyroscopes is because testing, running, and updating our tools for the last 30 years has shown us that we are inherently more precise than a magnetic measurement tool that measures the Earth's (local) magnetic field. Contrary to our tools, a magnetic measurement device is easily influenced by outside interference. Events like variations in the solar wind, such as solar flares, can easily interfere with the local magnetic field, which in turn changes your measurement of the field. Of course you can compensate for this with a lot of math, but even then those tools are still not as accurate as the tools we provide. I'd really like to know how they solved that problem, if they actually did.

Re:I'm skeptical (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | about a month ago | (#47066961)

I think the emphasis has been misplaced; I think based on the process describe that they're actually measuring the *gravitational* field, which is not readily tampered with. It'd be like navigating based on a topo map, except instead of altitude it'd be using the local gravitational field below the device.

Supercooled superconducting gravimeters can be amazingly sensitive, to the point that one in Finland reportedly detected the increase in local gravity as workmen removed snow from the roof of the building it was housed in ;) If one can make use of tiny diode lasers to supercool a tiny group of particles, it could conceivably yield a low power, portable, super-precise, tamper-immune GPS when combined with dead-reckoning and/or other rough positioning mechanisms to help determine how you're moving over the "topographical" gravity map.

At least that's my take.

Compass... or quantum thingie? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066555)

Certainly the compass is more cost effective - you won't want to miniaturize this quantum thingie too much - you wouldn't want your foot soldiers losing your million-dollar gadget.

This gadget - literally hundreds of years of science and billions of dollars on research... and may not actually work right without a constant power source (supercooled, subatomic particles??!)

The traditional compass - a magnet, a cork, and bowl of water... Or any other number of alternative implementations that are relatively inexpensive.

Not a reinvention of the compass! (1)

BoRegardless (721219) | about a month ago | (#47066583)

The writer doesn't understand what he is talking about.

How accurate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066603)

Submarines already have pretty accurate internal systems for figuring out their position. The issue is that at some point (no matter what type of internal navigation equipment is on board) there needs to be an external verification(fix) on your position. This needs to be reliable and minimizes the risk of the submarine exposing itself. GPS(as well as a few others) fulfills this role. This wouldn't replace GPS, it would replace the internal navigation equipment already on board the boat.

secure and interference proof? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066711)

"secure and interference proof", yet it depends on a magnetic field for positioning. Perhaps it's secure while it's in a large metal container at the bottom of the ocean, but it's not likely to be secure anywhere else.

Quantum compass in smartphones... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066757)

Sure, this will be essential to everyone who wants to use their smartphone to navigate while diving at submarine depths.

ObBetteridge (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066777)

No.

The answer is no (1)

jetole (1242490) | about a month ago | (#47066785)

Is It Really GPS If It Doesn't Use Satellites?

The answer is no. No it is not GPS If it doesn't use satellites. In fact, even if it does use satellites, it's not GPS unless it uses the data received by the USA DOD GPS satellite transmitters. GPS is a pronoun, a proper name. GPS refers to, specifically and explicitly, the DOD GPS satellite system and anything not relying on the signals transmitted by those specific satellites IS NOT GPS.

Re:The answer is no (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about a month ago | (#47066811)

Maybe it's not the GPS but it is a GPS.

It's Global (it works world-wide right?)
It's a Positioning System.

Well.. there ya go

Vacuum? (3, Interesting)

Forthan Red (820542) | about a month ago | (#47066869)

"These particles, stored in a vacuum, react to the Earth's magnetic field." Is it actually possible to store anything in a vacuum? If a vacuum is, by definition, a space that is devoid of matter, once you put something in it, it's not a vacuum anymore.

Compass? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47066907)

So this is basically a scientifically accurate compass?

That I assume is shielded from the electricity generated by the submarine? But somehow still detects the much weaker electrical field of the earth?

However, I bet it would still be relatively easy to screw up with electronic counter-measures. Not something I expect to be militarily useful in all out war - except on deep cover espionage missions.

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