The GPS technology is so wide that it's now hard to remember the day you simply could not remove your phone and find out exactly where you are in the world. However, in fact, it's a very recent development and something that we can deny in the future. GPS is based on a satellite network that can be damaged, blocked or destroyed. You also can not get a good GPS lock when you are underground or around high buildings. However, there may be an alternative. Imperial College London and the engineering company M Squared have developed a new "quantum accelerometer" that can provide precise locations without an external system.
Navigation with accelerometers is possible and there has been some time. The phone has an accelerometer that tracks movement and orientation. However, it is not practical to use this technology for large-scale navigation. The accelerometer measures the motion, so you can use it to find out where you are, if you have a good reference point. Microsoft released an internal navigation app called Road Guide Android has been doing it for years. The problem is that the accelerometers are not perfect – they lose an inch here and there, and these errors over time, until you know where you are.
A quantum accelerometer from the London Imperial College could solve this problem, because it is surprisingly precise. While the device is nominally portable, it is not really compact or easy to use. Quantum mechanics tells us that the whole issue is wave property, but it is very difficult to follow in everyday life. Ultra-cooled atoms exhibit wavelengths more and this is the key for quantum accelerometer.
The London Imperial College used a powerful laser system from M Squared to cool atmospheric hair to very low temperatures until the aspect of the wave is visible. As the atoms evaporate through the accelerometer chamber, the motion affects the wave properties. The researchers used a laser interferometer to monitor interference in quantum waves, allowing the system to trace motion with high precision.
S0, the accelerometer knows when it moves with a high degree of precision, and therefore knows where it always depends on where it started. Currently, the system measures one-axis motion, but it must be possible to scale the design to measure all three axes and three rotation directions for full navigation.
The team claims that the device, as it is, can now be launched on ships or trains to move without access to GPS. However, it's too big to fit your phone right now. Lasers are just too big. Maybe one day you will have a quantum accelerometer in your pocket, but not sooner.
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