DARPA in useful, easily-achievable project shocker
System likely to actually work: Sackings expected
Renowned Pentagon crazytech agency DARPA, which normally wouldn't touch a piece of low-hanging fruit with a bargepole, has announced a new plan which seems strangely practical and achievable. The idea is to develop a backup for satnav location systems using radio "signals of opportunity".
DARPA refers to the plan as "Robust Surface Navigation" (RSN), making it clear that we aren't on about nuclear missiles, smart bombs or other such things which use satnav - just military units or systems down on the ground. In some situations, such as "urban canyons" or forest with dense overhead foliage, such users often struggle to get a decent fix using satnav.
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Hence DARPA would like it if US military navigation hardware could also sniff out other radio transmissions in the neighbourhood. These might be special nav beacons emplaced by US forces, but the scheme is aimed more at "radio emitters not originally intended for location and navigation (such as commercial communications satellites, commercial radio and television broadcast towers, or mobile telephone towers)", according to DARPA. It's intended "to counter localized jamming or global failure of the Global Positioning System (GPS) ... and to complement GPS capabilities in situations for which it was not intended".
The weird thing about this - in a DARPA context - is that it's fairly simple and do-able. Most mobile phones, using Google's free map software, can get some kind of fix - potentially a fairly decent one - by simply looking at the cell towers nearby. Any device equipped with Wi-Fi can tap into a database of MAC IDs and locations (http://www.skyhookwireless.com/howitworks/wps.php)
, and so get an idea where it is. Similar plans are eminently achievable using Bluetooth (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/09...ing_web_signs/
) or other radio protocols.