BAE Systems nav system to rival GPS?

UK defence firm BAE Systems has developed what it claims to be a new positioning system to rival current technologies such as GPS, relying on the same signals used by mobile phones, TVs, radios and wi-fi rather than navigation satellites.

The prototype is a big box-like piece of hardware although could be as small as a GPS dongle is today, according to Ramsey Faragher, principal scientist at the BAE Advanced Technology Centre in the United Kingdom.

He explains that Navsop works by picking up all the available signals nearby, heavily relying on medium wave radio frequencies.

“The European Commission determined that 800bn euros ($995bn) of the European economy is dependent on either precision navigation or precision timing from GPS – the aviation industry, the shipping industry, agriculture, telecommunications, all need GPS to function.

If the GPS signal is there, by all means, use it. If not, we say that with Navsop, you can determine your position anyway,” says Faragher.”And that’s why it’s important to have back-up systems in case GPS signal is not available.”

This would help in incidents GPS jammers bought over the internet as well as space weather incidents such as solar flares that result in a release of a very large cloud of charged particles. Once these hit the Earth’s atmosphere, they can prevent GPS signals from coming through cleanly.

Mobile phones, radios and TVs use signals that are a lot more powerful than those from navigation satellites, as they are broadcast from only a few kilometres away, and so cannot be jammed.So Navsop uses them instead.

“We are not saying that our technology should necessarily replace GPS, but rather complement it,” says Faragher. “If the GPS signal is there, by all means, use it. If not, we say that with Navsop, you can determine your position anyway.”

BAE Systems says that for now, it is not clear when the technology will be put on the market, but in principle it could be used by countries developing other sat-nav technologies. He said it would also be useful to the military in case one side deliberately switched off GPS to prevent its adversary from locating its units.

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