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GPS has proved to be an important part of modern technology, be it portable GPS, or in-car navigation, or drones. However, there are numerous situations where getting GPS isn't possible, due to factors like tall buildings that block the signals that run the GPS. GPS can also be blocked deliberately blocked or jammed, preventing it from functioning properly.
To find an alternative, researcher at Imperial College London have developed a quantum "compass" that lets users navigate without relying on the satellites. Dubbed as the "standalone quantum accelerometer," was demonstrated at the National Quantum Technologies Showcase.
An accelerometer is a tool that can measure the changes in an object's velocity over time and is commonly used in smartphones. The location of an object can be determined if the original position and its velocity are known. But, the issue with accelerometers is that with time the accuracy is also hampered without an external reference to recalibrate them. This also means that they aren't a very good alternative where location specificity is required such as navigation.
The new quantum accelerometer, in turn, offers a high level of accuracy. It measures the movement of supercool atoms, which are cooled to a point that they start showing quantum behavior: they are both particles and waves.
The researchers examine the movements of the atoms by creating an atom interferometer - a tool that can measure the displacement of waves. This means the new tools can measure movement through space in a very accurate way.
The device, however, is too big to fit in a small space, but it could be useful for use on ships and trains which require precise navigation when GPS isn't available. The reason for the big size is the powerful lasers that are needed to get the atoms cold enough for the accelerometer to work.