Satellite-less Sensors

Sometimes, even a satellite needs a helping hand.  Or, in this case, a helping sensor.

A pair of LocataLite transmit antennas overlook a section of the vast area of the White Sands Missile Range blanketed by the Locata high-precision ground-based positioning system. (Photo provided by Locata)

A pair of LocataLite transmit antennas overlook a section of the vast area of the White Sands Missile Range blanketed by the Locata high-precision ground-based positioning system. (Photo provided by Locata)

We’ve told you about the Locata sensor before.  For those of you who don’t know, it’s a positioning system that uses a local network, rather than satellites, to give you the lay of the land.  The technology is already being used in the military.

The U.S. Air Force is now deploying a network across White Sands Missile Range, where they intentionally jam GPS and satellite communication for security reasons.

Now the military is hoping to take this tech a step further.

They’re using Locata technology as a location augmentation, if you will.  The U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) has signed a cooperative Research & Development Agreement (CRADA) to build and demonstrate new Locata technology for use in GPS receivers on a widespread level.

AFIT plans to design and test several other GPS-based versions of Locata’s flexible switching antenna array to assess how Locata’s commercial antennas can be adapted for military use.  Designs already discussed include stand-alone antennas, arrays conformal to a vehicle’s frame (e.g. a flat one for a Humvee’s roof, curved for aircraft fuselages, etc) and a version built into helmets.

There are a lot of benefits to having this kind of situational awareness.  We’ll start with a look at the technology itself.

“The LocataLite is actually the transmitter that’s like the satellite in GPS,” says Nunzio Gambale, co-founder and CEO of Locata.  He and his co-founder, Dave Small, have created this personal positioning platform as a means of filling the void that GPS leaves.  Going where the satellites can’t go, more or less. 

Nunzio affectionately refers to this technology as the “the GPS without the G”.

What’s interesting about Locata’s unique positioning technology is that it’s a terrestrial wireless network.  That means it functions as a completely standalone local ground based replica of GPS.  When the LocataLite transmitter is placed around an area and activated, it becomes a ground-based location network.

“You can have GPS functionality, really highly accurate, under your own control anywhere in areas where GPS is unavailable,” Nunzio explains.  “For instance in malls, in urban warfare situations, inside buildings, emergency services areas or where it’s being jammed on purpose by an enemy.  But, more importantly, Locata collaborates seamlessly with the GPS satellites.”

Good to know where you’re going and where everything is, eh?

Think about it this way:

Say you’re playing a video game that requires you to know where you are, where you’re going, and what’s in the way of achieving your ends.  If you have to navigate without a map, you’re going to run into all sorts of problems in the game.

These golden boots are made for walking...into the blocky jungle and getting lost.  (Photo from Jessica L. Tozer)

These golden boots are made for walking…into the blocky jungle and getting lost. (Screen cap photo of actually being lost in Minecraft provided by Jessica L. Tozer)

I once walked across an entire Minecraft world in survival mode without a map or a compass for two hours before I found anything that resembled something familiar.  Then I discovered I was on the wrong side of the world. 

For those of you who don’t know, that’s a lot of game time spent (see: wasted) walking around.  Not ideal.

Having the map and compass would have done me a world of good and saved me a lot of trouble.  And that was just in a computer game.

Imagine how the real life troops must feel when their maps and equipment aren’t enough.  Especially when your life depends on it.

“What this will mean is that all the U.S. military will be able to give themselves this technology platform to go to places where GPS wasn’t available previously,” Nunzio explains.

“We’re not here to make GPS receivers for the military or anything else.  We’re just the guys who have developed the Intel Inside, if you wish, or Locata inside, that allows them to now do new things with a GPS-like signal.”

So besides the military, how else could this benefit people?  To do that, we have to go deep.  Just ask the miners of the Bodington goldmine in Western Australia.

If there was ever a place to know where you’re going, it’s deep inside a mine.  They’ve had the system for six months, Nunzio tells me, and they say it’s changed the way they approach positioning forever.

Dr. John Raquet, Director, Advanced Navigation Technology Center, AFIT, stated: “If this is successful, the technology could enable significantly improved technical performance and a reduction in the cost of multiple-element GPS antennas. AFIT is excited to investigate this technology for the benefits it will potentially bring to American warfighters.”

When you need to know where you’re going, and the GPS can’t reach you, this is the way to do it.  The military is using this Locata technology to fill holes, solve a problem and mitigate vulnerabilities.

“It’s like me telling you he changed every rule of how GPS works,” Nunzio says.  “Every rule. We don’t need the satellites, the atomic clocks, billions of dollars in infrastructure.  It’s like me saying to you Dave’s invented a car where you need no wheels, no motor and no steering wheel but it does exactly the same job.”

I’d like to see that car.

Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed With Science.  She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for technology in the military.

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