BAE Systems has announced they’ve created a new type of positioning system, possibly replacing GPS devices in the future. Rather than relying on the signals from GPS satellites, the Navsop navigation system uses the signals our TVs, mobile phones, radios, and wi-fi rely on.
The company states Navsop could be used for a variety of purposes, such as locating victims inside of a burning building, finding stolen cars in underground parking garages, or even during war in the event the sat-nav system is disabled.
The Navsop prototype is a bit large: a box-like device which is in the rear of one of BAE’s vehicles, complete with big radio antenna on the roof. Ramsey Faragher, the principal scientist at the BAE Advanced Technology Centre in Chelmsford, 40 miles north-east of London, assures that when it is released on the market it will be just a bit bigger than a coin, similar in size to today’s GPS dongle.
How Does It Work?
Faragher points out that the device does need the GPS signals at first, but eventually this reliance lessens over time. “Let’s be clear – for Navsop to start learning, you have to have a GPS signal, to know where you are on the face of the Earth. The more the system is used the less it relies on GPS for further learning, and reaches the point where it doesn’t need GPS at all to function or to carry on learning about new signals. So if the GPS signal disappears, we’ll still be able to navigate,” he says, while traveling in BAE’s Navsop equipped vehicle, complete with computer screen displaying a map that shows the GPS location of the vehicle on the city streets.
The Navsop device uses all nearby signals, relying mostly on medium wave radio frequencies. These frequencies are in the same part of the spectrum used over 100 years ago by the so-called father of long distance radio, Guglielmo Marconi, who created the world’s first wireless telegraph in London.
A Back-Up for GPS
The world relies heavily on GPS. The signals this technology relies on comes from the constellation of satellites all around the Earth, some of them 12,400 miles away. This distance creates a common problem one might come across while using a GPS device: weak or nonexistant signal in certain situations such as underground, inside a building, or in a dense forest. Faragher points out the biggest problem: what if the signal disappears altogether? “Our society has now become hugely dependent on GPS,” he said.
“The European Commission determined that 800 euros ($995) of the European economy is dependent on either precision navigation or precision timing from GPS – the aviation industry, the shipping industry, agriculture, telecommunications, all need GPS to function. And that’s why it’s important to have back-up systems in case GPS signal is not available.”
Giving GPS a Helping Hand
A great example of GPS signal being unavailable is happening now, with the GPS jammer. A car thief can use this jammer to prevent law enforcement officials or the car’s owner from finding their GPS loction. What about the solar flares we’ve reported on? This cloud of charged particles can temporarily prevent GPS signal from reaching Earth.
The radio signals the Navsop relies on are more powerful than the satellites, mainly because they are broadcast from the Earth itself, and cannot be jammed. “We are not saying that our technology should necessarily replace GPS, but rather complement it,” said Faragher. “If the GPS signal is there, by all means, use it. If not, we say that with Navsop, you can determine your position anyway.” BAE doesn’t yet know when the Navsop will be available on the market.