PARIS — Tracking soldiers and first responders in global positioning system-denied environments, such as urban buildings and subterranean tunnels, may now be possible thanks to a new technology that uses a range of sensors that are impervious to magnetic interference.
Vectronix, headquartered in Heerbrugg, Switzerland, has developed a core navigation module that can follow the movements of people in areas where electromagnetic disturbances disrupt traditional tracking devices.
The module incorporates existing digital compass technology — three accelerometers and three magnetometers — with a gyroscope and a barometer to track a person’s location.
“What you have is the progression of modules,” explains Louis Shadle, company spokesman. “The first module is most basic, a digital magnetic compass. When you add to the digital magnetic compass an accelerometer, you have the ability to measure inertial movement. That’s a dead reckoning compass. Next, when you add a gyroscope, as well as a barometric sensor, that becomes the core navigation module. Each one builds upon previous technologies.”
The core navigation module can feed the information into a computer or handheld device.
During a ground warfare exposition here, the company runs a demonstration of the module.
Wearing a vest with the system tucked into a compact pack in the small of her back, Celine Vanderstaeten, personal navigation project manager, walks around the floor of the exhibition. As she makes progress around the building, her path appears in a solid red line in real-time on a computer screen displaying a schematic of the exhibition floorplan.
When Vanderstaeten walks close to a large combat vehicle on display, the gyroscope compensates for the magnetic interference that normally would have skewed the readings.
“It’s all about providing a suite of sensors that work with each other and basically provide a check for each other,” says Shadle.
Vanderstaeten carries a personal digital assistant with her to monitor her progress. It enables her to adjust the algorithms to reflect her height and stride more accurately. Shadle says the PDA will eventually migrate into the pack for hands-free convenience.
Company representatives envision the system being used by not only military personnel, but also first responders.
Had this system been in place during the 9/11 attacks, the movements of fire fighters and police officers could have been tracked very accurately, says Shadle.
An earlier version of the system is being incorporated into the U.S. Army’s Land Warrior ensemble.
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