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This device could pioneer GPS-free navigation

Compact devices designed and manufactured by Sandia National Laboratories have the potential to become a core component of next-generation navigation systems. Credit: Bret Latter

Don’t be fooled by titanium metal walls or sapphire windows. It’s inside this small, curious device that could one day start a new era of navigation.


For over a year, avocado-sized vacuum chambers contained a cloud of atoms under the right conditions for accurate navigation measurements. According to Peter Schwint, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratory, this is a small, energy-efficient, reliable, quantum sensor (a sensor that uses quantum mechanics to surpass conventional technology) from the laboratory. It is the first device that can be moved to commercial use.

Sandia has developed a chamber as a core technology of the future Navigation system He said it does not rely on GPS satellites.Published in the journal earlier this year AVS Quantum Science..

Countless devices around the world use GPS for route search. This is possible because the atomic clock, known for its highly accurate timekeeping, perfectly synchronizes the satellite network.

However, GPS signals can be disrupted or spoofed, potentially disabling the navigation system for commercial and military vehicles, Schwinn said.

Therefore, instead of relying on satellites, Schwinn said future vehicles could track their position. They could do it with an on-board device as accurate as an atomic clock, but it measures acceleration and rotation by shining a laser on a small cloud of rubidium gas, such as that Sandia contained.

This device could pioneer GPS-free navigation

Sandia National Laboratories scientist Peter Schwinn (left) and postdoctoral fellow Bethany Little examine a vacuum package held in a yellow 3D-printed mount. Credit: Bret Latter

The key to compactness of real-world applications

Atomic accelerometers and gyroscopes already exist, but they are bulky and consume a lot of power for use in airplane navigation systems. That’s because they need a large vacuum system for them to work, which requires thousands of volts of electricity.

“Quantum sensors are a growing field and there are many applications that can be demonstrated in the lab,” said Bethany Little, a postdoctoral fellow at Sandia, who is contributing to the research. “But when we move into the real world, there are a lot of problems that need to be solved. Two are to make the sensor compact and sturdy. All physics is done in a volume of 1 cubic centimeter (0.06 cubic inch). So it’s wasted space. “

Her team rarely said that quantum sensing had shown to work without a powerful vacuum system. This reduces the package to a practical size without sacrificing reliability.

Instead of an electric vacuum pump that dispels molecules that leak and destroy measurements, a pair of devices called getters use chemical reactions to bind intruders. Each getter is about the size of a pencil eraser, so you can push it into two thin tubes protruding from the titanium package. It also works without a power supply.

To further prevent pollutants, Schwinn has partnered with Sandia’s materials scientists to work with titanium. sapphire.. These materials are particularly good at blocking gases such as helium that can be squeezed through stainless steel and Pyrex glass. Funding was provided by a research and development program led by Sandia’s Institute.

The construction used advanced manufacturing techniques that Sandia refined to bond the advanced materials of nuclear weapons components. And like a nuclear weapon Titanium The chamber must function reliably for many years.

The Sandia team continues to monitor the device. Their goal is to keep it closed for five years. This is an important milestone to show that technology is ready to be fielded. Meanwhile, they are looking for ways to streamline manufacturing.


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For more information:
Bethany J. Little et al, a passively pumped vacuum package that retains cold atoms for more than 200 days, AVS Quantum Science (2021). DOI: 10.1116 / 5.0053885

Quote: This device is a GPS free navigation acquired from https://phys.org/news/2021-10-device-usher-gps-free.html on October 26, 2021 (October 26, 2021). May signal the arrival of

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This device could pioneer GPS-free navigation

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