For all the incredible and fantastic elements of the Global Positioning System (GPS), there are a few…gaps. For example: Ever tried to get your GPS to work under a bridge? Or inside a building? Mine launches a full assault against productivity when that happens. Even a parking garage seems to be a bit too much for the device to process.
There’s a reason for that. Well, there’s a reason for the G in GPS. It’s not designed to see through walls or under waters or in buildings. The LocataLite, however, is.
“Locata has invented a device, it’s the size of a videocassette,” says Nunzio Gambale, co-founder, chairman of the board, and the CEO of Locata. “We call it a LocataLite. The LocataLites are like a satellite except they’re ground-based and they’re completely under our control.”
I know you might be thinking, “Oh, sensors. Neat.” And you’d be right, but it’s more than just a sensor. The LocataLite puts certain things in perspective. Specifically, where the GPS can’t go.
And that could make all the difference for the military. So let’s do a little GPS-101, shall we?
The GPS is, at the core, all about time. Literally. As the clocks in the satellites go around the world twice a day, their clocks are updated against the master clock that’s on the ground. There’s also an incredibly complex station of bases around the world where the satellites fly over and their clocks are synchronized.
If you look the GPS up, Nunzio says, you’ll just get a lesson from beginning to end about atomic clocks. And this is because without the synchronization component, the GPS doesn’t work. LocataLite is different. “LocataLite goes through a new process we’ve invented. It’s called TimeLoc,” he explains. “TimeLoc is absolutely the secret sauce. Time lock allows us to wirelessly synchronize these devices currently — and I promise you this is true — currently to better than 1 billionth of a second. And we don’t use an atomic clock.”
The word “revolutionary” has been used to describe this new technology, and I think that might not be far off. This is basically the thing that fills the holes for the standard GPS – going where it cannot go.
It’s a positioning system augmentation, in a sense. It’s also affectionately referred to as “your own GPS”, because it’s considerably more accessible for just about anyone to create their own network from the ground, Nunzio says. “The future of GPS is any frequency, any power, any density, anywhere,” he says. “So Locata now allows systems to work inside malls, warehouses, all the places where GPS was never designed for.”
I know you might be wondering what this kind of thing is doing for the military. It turns out, the military is using LocataLite to see where they could not see before.
“The U.S. Air Force is now deploying a network across White Sands [Missile Range],” he says. “It should be operational towards the end of this year or early next year. There we will have a LocataNet that covers 2,500 square miles. That’s 78 times the size of Manhattan. And in that area, what the U.S. Air Force is doing is that they’re jamming GPS and they’re continuing to position using Locata.”
So why is this significant. Well, for all the GPS-based directions, signal transmission and direction, is it a good idea to put a device that’s easily manipulated – like a GPS could be – in a place where we keep and/or control missiles?
“GPS was designed in the ’70s. Missiles, aircraft, they never imagined a world of iPhones or personal computers or wanting to find a forklift inside a warehouse. That just wasn’t in the cards [when the GPS was invented]. So they designed a fit-for-purpose technology which was very much military-based.”
Which worked great…when it was used primarily or exclusively by the military. The problem now is that 99.9 percent of all GPS applications are civilian.
“We’re not trying to replace GPS,” Nunzio says. “It’s exquisite. It’s one of the greatest technologies of the 20th century. The technology has been stretched out far beyond where the original designers thought it would go. The problem with GPS now is it’s a 1970s technology trying to cope with 2020s computing and electronics. Now, for the military that’s a problem because that’s a race it can’t win.”
Specifically, he means, the issue of GPS jamming.
One of the things that the military have to cope with is that, in the battlefield, there’s the possibility for GPS jamming. In the 1970s, creating a jammer for a CB-made signal like this was a really, really difficult exercise. Now it’s so easy it’s almost comical, Nunzio says. “You can buy these things online. It’s something the size of your thumb that plugs into a car’s cigarette letter,” he says. “It’s got a big, red button at the back that when you press the button it lights up, and GPS for six blocks just disappears.”
I’m sure you could see where that would be a problem for military operation. Not knowing where you’re going really gums up the works, if you will. This technology will allow military organizations to keep track of things without having to worry about having their signal disrupted.
Although, if signal disruption was the point, that’s a different story.
The 746th Test Squadron (TS), also known as the Central Inertial and GPS Test Facility (CIGTF), is the DoD‘s designated lead test organization chartered to test and evaluate GPS user equipment and integrated GPS based guidance and navigation systems. Basically, they are the guys who break down every part of this equipment to understand every strength…and every weakness.
They’re also working with Locata and their technology right now, as a fill-the-gap solution to some of the obstacles that the GPS is not designed to face. “When the GPS goes away they actually need some sort of truth system that tells them whether things are functioning as they should. To do that they need a ruler against which to measure it. Locata is that ruler.”
They are also using this technology to develop new capabilities built around the satellite-less signal.
Nunzio goes on to say that having a LocataLite network could effectively prohibit wide-scale jamming in places as large as cities. “To jam it you have to put out more power than the transmitters. And by the way, if you’re still being jammed, you can just dial up the power, turn it up.”
But this technology goes beyond the scope of just thwarting the bad guys who want to turn off the maps. This is something that could transcend to turn-by-turn directional positioning. That is, knowing where your people are down to a few inches of accuracy.
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)
“You could put the transmitters on Humvees in Afghanistan,” he says. “As they’re moving around, the GPS bubble follows them. It doesn’t matter what the jammers are doing, you’ll know where you are.”
As for the future of this kind of technology? Nunzio says it could easily take to the skies. The FAA is looking at flying unmanned aerial vehicles in controlled airspace along with civilian aircraft.
LocataLite could provide the directional awareness that they would need, without the fear of losing sight, so to speak, due to jammers or satellite-driven devices. “At White Sands, with an aircraft traveling 350 miles an hour – at 30 miles away – we’re positioning it to better than 2-1/2 inches. That’s the width of a business card at 30 miles.”
There’s nothing like it, Nunzio says. “It’s just never been seen before.”
It looks like the ground-based non-GPS positioning system could be the next thing in directional strategy for the military. From the satellite to the ground, we’ve got it covered.
Source: Armed With Science