Gyroscopes the Size of Sand Will Track You Anywhere (Even Underground)

Illustration for article titled Gyroscopes the Size of Sand Will Track You Anywhere (Even Underground)

The Israeli Department of Defense has cooked up the world's smallest gyroscope—powered by lasers and as small as a single grain of sand. The new gyros are sensitive enough to track your position and movements anywhere—no GPS required.

The underlying tech is the same that's found in aircraft and seafaring ships—minute physical changes are compared to each other, calculating a new position without the need for an external reference point. Essentially, the object (be it an aircraft carrier or something smaller) can detect itself moving. But for a gyro to be this tiny changes everything. Think of a smartphone that could pinpoint your movements in a cave—or, probably more realistically (and practically), a museum, or new apartment building. Sadly, we'll still need GPS a little bit, as the gyroscopes need to be told exactly where they are from above before their own internal detection can kick in. But this breakthrough will mean GPS access could someday be of minimal importance—which is great news (especially for any city dweller, who knows lining up a signal can be a pain at best). Just get one little satellite zap, and the micro-gyros will take it from there, anywhere in the world. [Pop Sci]

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iDon't even

Three things:

#1. While gyroscopes this small are a truly astounding bit of technology, I note a conspicuous absence of any data about their accuracy (unsurprisingly). After a few days tracking some suspect without a GPS fix to confirm, how much error will have accumulated?

#2. re. above: gyroscopes are not infallible. These systems, albeit much larger and more accurate versions, have been used in ships and aircraft for years now; and in the busiest shipping lanes in the world, the Straits of Dover, there was an account from the RNLI (sea rescue lifeboats) a few years back of a ship that nearly wrecked because the captain refused to believe his gyroscopic compass was wrong, and he was not in deep water at all, he was over sandbanks. Errors can, and do, happen, just as with everything else; this may complement GPS but dead reckoning based on one initial position will never replace that type of more positive fixing-system.

#3. Even if the gyro is this small, it needs processing circuitry, a battery, and most importantly of all a transmitter to phone home and tell the government where you are... so, it'll end up significantly larger in the end.