Scientists conduct first check of a wi-fi cosmic ray navigation system

Jun 18, 2023 0 Comments

Artistic illustration of muons showering the Earth
Enlarge / Cosmic rays showering down on Earth’s ambiance are the premise of a brand new wi-fi different system to GPS navigation.

2015 Hiroyuki Ok.M. Tanaka

GPS is now a mainstay of each day life, serving to us with figuring out areas, navigation, monitoring, mapping, and timing throughout a broad spectrum of purposes. Nevertheless it does have a couple of shortcomings, most notably not with the ability to go by way of buildings, rocks, or water. That is why Japanese researchers have developed another wi-fi navigation system that depends on cosmic rays, or muons, as an alternative of radio waves, based on a new paper revealed within the journal iScience. The group has carried out their first profitable check, and the system might sooner or later be utilized by search and rescue groups, for instance, to information robots underwater, or assist autonomous automobiles navigate underground.

“Cosmic-ray muons fall equally throughout the Earth and at all times journey on the similar pace no matter what matter they traverse, penetrating even kilometers of rock,” stated co-author Hiroyuki Tanaka of Muographix on the College of Tokyo in Japan. “Now, through the use of muons, we’ve got developed a brand new sort of GPS, which we’ve got referred to as the muometric positioning system (muPS), which works underground, indoors and underwater.”

As beforehand reported, there’s a lengthy historical past of utilizing muons to picture archaeological constructions, a course of made simpler as a result of cosmic rays present a gradual provide of those particles. Muons are additionally used to hunt for illegally transported nuclear materials at border crossings and to monitor active volcanoes in hopes of detecting when they might erupt. In 2008, scientists at the University of Texas, Austin, repurposed old muon detectors to search for possible hidden Mayan ruins in Belize. Physicists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have been developing portable versions of muon imaging systems to unlock the construction secrets of the dome (Il Duomo) atop the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower in Florence, Italy, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in the early 15th century.

In 2016, scientists using muon imaging picked up signals indicating a hidden corridor behind the famous chevron blocks on the north face of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. The following year, the same team detected a mysterious void in another area of the pyramid, believing it could be a hidden chamber, which was subsequently mapped out using two different muon imaging methods. And just last month, scientists to discover a previously hidden chamber at the ruins of the ancient necropolis of Neapolis, some 10 meters (about 33 feet) below modern-day Naples, Italy.

Autonomous robots and vehicles could one day be commonplace in homes, hospitals, factories, and mining operations, as well as for search and rescue missions, but there is not yet a universal means of navigation and positioning, per Tanaka et al. As noted, GPS can’t penetrate underground or underwater. RFID technologies can achieve good accuracy with small batteries, but require a control center with servers, printers, monitors, and so forth. Dead reckoning is plagued by chronic estimation errors without an external signal to provide correction. Acoustic, laser scanner, and Lidar approaches also have drawbacks. So Tanaka and his colleagues turned to muons when developing their own alternative system.

Graph showing the pros and cons of alternative indoor and underground techniques
Enlarge / Graph showing the pros and cons of alternative indoor and underground techniques

2023 Hiroyuki K.M. Tanaka

Muon imaging methods typically involve gas-filled chambers. As muons zip through the gas, they collide with the gas particles and emit a telltale flash of light (scintillation), which is recorded by the detector, allowing scientists to calculate the particle’s energy and trajectory. It’s similar to X-ray imaging or ground-penetrating radar, except with naturally occurring high-energy muons rather than X-rays or radio waves. That higher energy makes it possible to image thick, dense substance. The denser the imaged object, the more muons are blocked. The Muographix system relies on four muon-detecting reference stations above ground serving as coordinates for the muon-detecting receivers, which are deployed either underground or underwater.

The team conducted the first trial of a muon-based underwater sensor array in 2021, using it to detect the rapidly changing tidal conditions in Tokyo Bay. They placed ten muon detectors within the service tunnel of the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line roadway, which lies some 45 meters (147 feet) below sea level. They were able to image the sea above the tunnel with a spatial resolution of 10 meters (nearly 33 feet) and a time resolution of one meter (3.3 feet), sufficient to demonstrate the system’s ability to sense strong storm waves or tsunamis.

The array was put to the test in September of that same year, when Japan was hit by a typhoon approaching from the south, producing mild ocean swells and tsunamis. The extra volume of water slightly increased the scattering of muons, and that variation corresponded well to other measurements of the ocean swells. And last year, Tanaka’s team reported they had successfully imaged the vertical profile of a cyclone using muography, showing the cyclone’s cross sections and revealing variations in density. They discovered that the warm core was low-density, in contrast to the high-pressure cold exterior. In conjunction with existing satellite tracking systems, muography could improve cyclone predictions.

Red line represents the path the “navigatee” walked. White line with dots shows the path recorded by MuWNS.
Enlarge / Red line represents the path the “navigatee” walked. White line with dots shows the path recorded by MuWNS.

2023 Hiroyuki K.M. Tanaka

The team’s earlier iterations connected the receiver to the ground station with a wire, which limited movement considerably. This new version—the muometric wireless navigation system, or MuWNS—is, as the name makes clear, completely wireless, and uses high-precision quartz clocks to synchronize the ground stations with the receiver. Taken together, the reference stations and synchronized clocks make it possible to determine the coordinates of the receiver.

For the test run, the ground stations were placed on the sixth floor of a building and a “navigee” holding the receiver walked around the basement corridors. The resulting measurements were used to calculate the navigee’s route and confirm the path traveled. According to Tanaka, MuWNS performed with an accuracy of between 2 and 25 meters (6.5 to 82 feet), with a range of as much as 100 meters (about 328 feet). “This is as good as, if not better than, single-point GPS positioning aboveground in urban areas,” he said. “But it is still far from a practical level. People need one-meter accuracy, and the key to this is the time synchronization.”

One solution would be to incorporate commercially available chip-scale atomic clocks, which are twice as accurate as quartz clocks. But those atomic clocks are too pricey at the moment, although Tanaka foresees the cost decreasing in the future as the technology becomes more broadly incorporated into cellphones. The rest of the electronics used in MuWNS will be miniaturized going forward to make it a handheld device.

DOI: iScience, 2023. 10.1016/j.isci.2023.107000  (About DOIs).

The oldsters at Muographix created this charming fictional animated video to clarify their muon-based techniques.

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