Government // Cybersecurity
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8/7/2014
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Elena Malykhina
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5 Breakthrough DARPA Technologies Beyond GPS

Miniaturization, pulsed lasers, and quantum physics will bring new capabilities for positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) to the battlefield.
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(Image: DARPA)
(Image: DARPA)

When it comes to military operations, GPS is not always a reliable technology for positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT). Yet PNT capabilities are essential to targeting missles; navigation for land, sea, and air forces; and precision in military operations overall. That's why the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has created several programs to develop other approaches that offer more dependable and accurate PNT capabilities when GPS isn't working properly.

"We are putting new physics, new devices, and new algorithms on the job so our people and our systems can break free of their reliance on GPS," DARPA director Arati Prabhakar said in a statement.

The restricted nature of GPS is due to environmental factors such as solar storms, when signals are degraded, and is especially apparent to warfighters underground and underwater. GPS transmit levels from orbiting satellites are extremely low power and therefore weakened by the time they reach Earth. The signals can be obstructed by dense trees or buildings. They also cannot penetrate water, which makes GPS problematic for various military applications.

"More worrisome is that adversaries can jam signals. GPS continues to be vital, but its limitations in some environments could make it an Achilles' heel if warfighters rely on it as their sole source of PNT information," DARPA says on its program website. In fact, illegal devices that jam GPS signals are becoming increasingly available. Some simple gadgets that plug into 12-volt car receptacle connectors and cost as little as $30 can render GPS systems inoperable for miles, according to GPS systems provider NovAtel.

In its search for new technologies that offer an alternative to GPS, DARPA is particularly interested in systems that provide long-duration precision and accuracy in positioning and timing for global synchronization, secure communications, and cooperative effects. Such technologies include architectures for ad-hoc PNT networks, sensors, and signal processing designed to perform in adverse environments, and new architectures that enable communications, electronic warfare (EW), and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems to support PNT systems.

The agency needs affordable, compact, and flexible systems that can be used for a broad range of defense missions. For example, DARPA issued a solicitation in June seeking proposals for PNT systems that can operate independent of GPS, as part of its Spatial, Temporal, and Orientation Information in Contested Environments (STOIC) program.  

Explore our slideshow for five DARPA programs focused on developing next-generation PNT capabilities -- from adaptable navigation systems to extreme miniaturization for building smaller, lighter, and more powerful sensors.

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she ... View Full Bio

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rdthomas
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rdthomas,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/8/2014 | 11:26:48 AM
DARPA Grand Challenge developed several non-GPS technologies
For ground based vehicles, DARPA might want to look into  Palos Verdes High Schools technology called the "Ground Mouse" that used a ground facing camera that processed 60 frames/second and combined with Laser Radar and Gyro signals to navigate the desert outside of Barstow for the first two Grand Challenges events.  The idea was stop looking to the sky [for GPS signals that could be disrupted] when ground based vehicle are always on the ground.  Perhaps we are looking the wrong way, look down DARPA :-)
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
8/8/2014 | 10:20:51 AM
Re: GRAVITY PROBE B might also be polled as an independent, external reference node
It is amazing that DARPA continues to be the leader of new technology. Such innovations will sure enter the market and change the way we live the same way the Internet did.  An atomic clock. I have never heard of something like that before.
FrankL852
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FrankL852,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/8/2014 | 4:31:26 AM
GRAVITY PROBE B might also be polled as an independent, external reference node
GRAVITY PROBE B might also be polled as an independent, external reference node.
FrankL852
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FrankL852,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/8/2014 | 4:22:52 AM
Technologies Beyond GPS
PROJECT EGG-DROP:  An orbital reference lab which uses various extraterrestrial references (Siderial Guide Stars, Lunar Reflectors, Earth reflectors, Corner Prisms, etc.) and various atomic clocks and precision inertial platforms in order to "PUBLISH" a PERIODIC EXTERNAL REFERENCE STANDARD UPDATE, via NAVIGABLE RE-ENTRY PUCKS (which may be very small).  ... These pucks are recovered and physically interrogated (high reliability data link) to correct any drift in roving reference master platforms (highest precision internal SINS). ... (lowest drift master platforms).

... The TERRESTRIAL ROVING REFERENCE STANDARDS PLATFORMS would transmit reference standards updates via X-RAY PACKET SWITCHING NETWORK ... This would be multiplexed, multi-frequency, redundant packet routing and could even be received under dense foliage.

A puck could navigate (via controlled re-entry) to a specific drop zone, as often as required (daily?) ...   A naval vessel (ship or sub) would recover the reference puck (the "egg") ... The ship would transmit the reference update to a UAV or LTA platform, which would transmit reference standards updates to lower precision systems, units,  and platforms.
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