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May 15, 2014

Super cooled atom positioning technology set for smartphone use

'Quantum positioning' to be tested on submarines.

By Ben Sullivan

An advanced type of positioning technology that uses super-cooled atoms to keep track of location will be trailed on British submarines starting from 2016.

The technology could be more accurate than GPS and may one day be used in cars and mobile devices.

As GPS cannot be used underwater, so submarines provide the perfect testing ground for the technology.

Quantum positioning uses a laser to track the movement of chilled atoms, and monitoring the quantum-level movement, location can be identified by how the atoms have moved since the starting location.

Neil Stansfield from the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory said: "Today, if a submarine goes a day without a GPS fix we’ll have a navigation drift of the order of a kilometre when it surfaces.

"A quantum accelerometer will reduce that to just 1 metre."

If the technology can be successfully miniaturised and embedded in cars, aircraft, even mobile phones, it could act as a back up for when GPS loses signal in built-up areas or remote locations.

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Ten to 20 years ago this would have needed a huge cryogenic cooler, but laser-cooled atom clouds are changing all that," said team leader Stephen Till.

"We’re convinced the size and power will come down for broad use."

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