In today’s world, most everyone relies on GPS to navigate in unknown areas or for the quickest route to a desired location. We use it so much so that we’ve taken it for granted much like water, but what if the satellite navigation system suddenly went offline due to malfunction, solar flares or an act of warfare? For most of us, the loss of GPS would be an inconvenience at worst but for the military it would be a complete disaster (GPS guided missiles and bombs would no longer function correctly, etc.). DARPA has been developing a solution to the ‘what if’ scenario and it comes in the form of a miniaturized microchip smaller than a dime. Known as a TIMU (Timing and Inertial Measurement Unit), the tiny chip is packed to the silicon with everything needed to navigate around the globe if GPS satellites suddenly go down.
DARPA researchers have created the TIMU prototype using a six-axis IMU (3 accelerometers and 3 gyroscopes) and an extremely accurate master clock in the space of only 10 millimeters to give the user their near precise location. Three key pieces of information are needed to accurately guide you to your desired destination (from point A to point B) which includes orientation, acceleration and time (that can also be done relatively easy using a compass, watch and a reference point) which DARPA’s TIMU does simultaneously with all three measurements. The chip itself was designed using multiple layers of silica (6 in all) measuring a scant 50 microns thick (or roughly the thickness of a human hair) with each layer providing a different function depending on the sensor. The researchers state that their TIMU chip is ideal for applications that include personal tracking, handheld navigation, small diameter munitions and small drones (airborne platforms). While the chip is intended for military use, it could one day lead to the civilian market where it could be used to navigate indoors or even underground in subway systems where it’s next to impossible to get an accurate GPS reading.