DARPA's Surface Navigation Concept - without GPS


April 18, 2007

April 19, 2007 Imagine the United States attempting to fight a war if the Global Positioning System (GPS) were suddenly unavailable. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has obviously thought about it has just awarded a concept development contract to a team of corporations led by Boeing. The objective of the Robust Surface Navigation (RSN) program is to develop technologies that can exploit various "signals of opportunity" -- electronic waves emanating from satellites, cell phone towers and even television transmission towers -- to provide precise location and navigation information to ground troops when GPS signals are being electronically jammed or blocked by natural or man-made obstacles, such as foliage or buildings. The team includes ROSUM, the only company that has used broadcast television signals to locate mobile assets. It's also the first company to combine television and GPS signals for truly robust situational awareness in all environments.

"The challenge is to develop an integrated system that can use all available signals -- not just GPS -- to provide accurate navigation information through one small receiver, thereby eliminating the need for an expensive, fixed infrastructure," said Bart Ferrell, Boeing Phantom Works program manager for Precision Navigation Programs.

The Boeing-led Robust Surface Navigation team is beginning its 15-month Phase 1 concept development contract.

The team includes ROSUM, NAVSYS and Shared Spectrum. "Leveraging the technical expertise and capabilities of this exceptionally strong team will help ensure the development of a very robust integrated system for surface navigation," Ferrell said.

ROSUM is the only company that has used broadcast television signals to locate mobile assets. It's also the first company to combine television and GPS signals for truly robust situational awareness in all environments. ROSUM's leadership comes from GPS, cellular and television industries.

NAVSYS provides high-quality technical products and services in GPS hardware design, systems engineering, systems analysis, and software design. Founded in 1986 by Dr. Allison Brown, NAVSYS is dedicated to promoting the use of GPS in a wide variety of commercial and military applications. It offers services in three primary areas: GPS, Inertial Navigation Systems, and Communications Systems.

Shared Spectrum has developed innovative cognitive radio technologies for government and commercial customers with challenging radio communications and networking needs. The company's expertise includes defense communications in extremely challenging RF conditions and commercial communications involving novel approaches to sharing and managing spectrum access.

Shared Spectrum Company (SSC) is currently demonstrating its neXt Generation (XG) radio system at the IEEE Symposium on New Frontiers on Dynamic Spectrum Access Networks (DySPAN) in Dublin, Ireland - the first time that SSC’s technology has been demonstrated in an open public forum. The XG system employs cognitive radio technology developed for DARPA. At a DARPA test last summer, SSC demonstrated for the first time that multiple frequencies can be accessed automatically and dynamically without interference to various legacy radios using the same frequencies. The Company’s research is expected to revolutionize military field communications, making it possible for commanders and soldiers to make optimum use of limited spectrum capacity in battle conditions. Potential commercial and public safety applications will similarly improve spectrum efficiency, radio range and user density. As part of the demonstration in Dublin, SSC engineers will perform an analysis of spectrum use in the city, establishing a baseline measurement for the operating frequencies provided by the conference organizers for the SSC tests. The demonstration will highlight the capability of SSC’s current XG radio prototype to detect available spectrum, avoid hostile attempts to jam the network, conform to policy commands, and network with other XG nodes. The company’s next version of its XG radios will also be shown for the first time. In addition to the demonstration, SSC engineers and regulatory experts will present papers on policy-based network management, dynamic spectrum sharing detectors and regulation of “smart” radio technology. Along with SSC, the DySPAN demonstrations will feature other emerging wireless communication techniques and involve many of the leading companies, universities and research institutions focusing on this topic worldwide. The conference is sponsored by the Communications Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Additional information about the conference is available at

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, (Australia's largest Telco), (Australia's largest employment site),,, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon
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