Sunday, March 18, 2012

New Device Tracks Soldiers without GPS


The United States military and the Department of Defense have expressed numerous concerns about the fragility of GPS signals and how susceptible they are to jamming and blocking attempts. With how much the military relies on GPS for navigational and offensive purposes, it’s not really all that surprising that at the U.S. Department of Defense Lab Day on May 14, researchers from the Communications Electronics Research Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) debuted a new technology that will help soldiers determine their location without GPS signals.

Called the Warfighter Integrated Navigation System (WINS), this new technology functions similar to dead reckoning and will provide an estimate of soldier’s location based on previously known location and other information. The small device, roughly half the size of a pack of cigarettes, the WINS packs a range of inertial sensors to help the device calculate where soldiers are located when a GPS signal is lost due to terrain or enemy interference. While accuracy will degrade the longer it goes without a GPS signal, the device does calculate its own error and gives soldiers a bit of an advantage over having no signals at all.

“Say we go to Southeast Asia and I’m in the middle of the jungle. There are not a lot of good landmarks. I’m navigating around and I lose the GPS because with the triple-canopy jungle, the GPS can’t penetrate that. I don’t know where I am on the map, so I’m in a bad situation. If I want to know exactly where I am so I can call for reinforcements or resupply, WINS is going to give me my location on a map, no matter where I am,” CERDEC researcher Osie A. David explained in the GPS World article. According to researchers, there are still some kinks to work out with the technology, but the details and engineering specifications should be ready for review in 2017.

Dead reckoning has been around for quite a while and is probably one of the simplest solutions for figuring out where you’re located without a continuous satellite signal. While there are dozens of researchers and companies scrambling to find a solution for navigation with corrupted or absent GPS signals, I personally think that in lieu of a backup, a system like WINS is probably going to be the way to go.

If you’re interested in reading more about WINS, head over to GPS World for more information and a review of a couple other technologies that were discussed at the Lab Day.

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