American scientists at Sandia National Laboratories have developed an avocado-sized titanium and sapphire vacuum chamber that could in the future be fitted with quantum mechanical sensors to provide navigation GPS level without the need for satellites.
For several decades, mankind has been actively using the GPS global positioning system. Originally intended for the US Department of Defense, GPS has become a daily feature of many civilian systems and technologies. Nevertheless, global positioning has areas where its application is limited – these are polar latitudes and deep gorges. Also, GPS signals can be blocked or tampered with, which can disable navigation systems in both commercial and military vehicles.
The GPS system is slightly vulnerable due to dependence technology from a network of satellites orbiting the Earth. Global positioning is based on the precise calculation of the location of an object (receiver) by measuring the time of reception of a signal synchronized with an atomic clock from a squadron of orbiting satellites. Artificial interference, natural terrain, or the location of an object at high latitudes can render the GPS system useless for accurately calculating the location of an object.
An alternative to GPS can be a rather old technology of inertial guidance, first used by the Nazis in the world’s first winged FAU missiles during the Second World War. Currently, such a system is used in the operation of military submarines. This is an autonomous positioning system that uses gyroscopes and accelerometers for navigation calculations, which provide an accurate calculation of the location of an object in relation to a fixed predetermined position.
An autonomous system has a number of advantages: immunity from interference, independence from external landmarks or signals, but also has significant disadvantages, such as large dimensions of the product. In addition, a device for inertial navigation must be sufficiently accurate and, like in the GPS system, have an error in measuring time at the level of an atomic clock. Modern inertial systems use mechanical gyroscopes or laser beams that pass through rubidium gas clouds to measure quantum effects. However, such systems require expensive and bulky vacuum systems.
Sandia’s methodology is to use compact quantum sensors housed in a small chamber with a volume of only a cubic centimeter. The chamber is made of titanium with sapphire windows – materials that, unlike stainless steel and special laboratory Pyrex glass, are very good at preventing even gases such as helium from leaking.
As of today, the chamber has been “holding” the vacuum necessary for navigation calculations for more than a year. The compact system does not use pumps to create a vacuum, but isolates the penetrating atoms through a chemical reaction. In this case, the vacuum maintenance system does not require an external source. Scientists plan to conduct a vacuum preservation test for five years. While waiting for the end of the experiment, experts will develop a more compact and easier to manufacture camera.