DARPA’s New Navigation Tool

We rely on navigation satellites and global positioning systems (GPS) for navigation. Hence, in the rare scenario, an occasional absence of these satellites would not only cause inconvenience to people looking for directions but would also pose a threat to the national security and destroy military missions.  DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has been working to find solutions to problems arising due to sudden inaccessibility of navigation satellites.

DARRPA researchers announced the creation of a chip containing TIMU (time and inertial measurement unit) on April 10, 2013 at the University of Michigan. This chip is smaller than a penny and is as thick as a couple of strands of human hair. This chip would act as a backup in case of GPS failures.

A tiny TIMU chip contains three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and an extremely accurate master clock for measuring orientation, acceleration and time simultaneously. Orientation, acceleration and time are the only pieces of information needed to navigate accurately and the integration of state -of- the- art devices makes this chip capable of finding all three .

At times, navigation satellites cannot be reached due to any of the following reasons:

  1. In highly populated places
  2. Jamming
  3. Simple interference like, in a tunnel

In such cases, these chips help figure out directions and places. Clearly, this chip overcomes the weakness of global satellite positioning.

A 10 cubic millimeter package contains this silicone dioxide chip. A TIMU chip has six micro fabricated layers, each of which is 50 microns thick. Manufacturing of such chips has been made possible through micro technology. Micro technology in the field of navigation aims at developing technology for chip scale navigation and precise guidance along with considerable reduction of size, weight and power.

Further development of TIMU would be of great help to the military. It would help the infantrymen find most suitable routes in absence of a global positioning system (GPS). It would also result in the considerable reduction in size of those bombs and missiles that are capable of finding precise targets. Miniature navigation could be provided to the naval wing of the military.

Another question that may arise is how can a device containing a TIMU chip find out locations and provide such accurate results without any sort of reference from outside? Well, a TIMU chip needs a starting point or a reference point and builds up on it.  It simply uses its sensors to infer the distance as well as direction from that reference point. A TIMU chip is ideally supposed to work with GPS and when it fails, the last recorded GPS position is used as the reference point. A TIMU device needs an external point of reference and it can’t function in the absence of this point.

Even though this chip is extremely small in size, it is said to be strong and reliable enough to perform as a backup in the absence of GPS. However, it is important to understand that this penny-sized chip is not replacing GPS or navigation satellites as of now. According to Pentagon futurists, this chip only compensates for temporarily inaccessible navigation satellites.

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