The first test of the μ meson underground navigation was successful

According to Science, a high-energy particle navigation system based on cosmic rays developed by the University of Tokyo has been successfully tested underground for the first time. In the future, the technology is expected to be used to guide underground or underwater robots, and even help search and rescue efforts for collapsed mines or buildings. The results were published in Interscience.

A depiction of a μ meson produced by cosmic rays and scattered on Earth. Photo by Hiroyuki K.M. Tanaka/University of Tokyo

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a well-established navigation tool that is actively used in everything from safe air travel to real-time location maps. However, it also has some limitations. GPS signals are weak at high latitudes and can be jammed or falsified, and the signal is also reflected by surfaces such as walls, interfered by trees, and cannot pass through buildings, rocks or water.

In contrast, in recent years, due to the important role of μ mesons in penetrating deep into volcanoes, looking inside pyramids, and observing the interior of hurricanes, it has maintained a high level of research popularity. However, μ mesons are falling more and more frequently around the world, about 10,000 per square meter per minute, and cannot be tampered with.

Professor Hiroyuki Tanaka of the University of Tokyo’s Muographix explained that cosmic rays μ mesons can fall evenly on Earth, traveling at the same speed no matter what material they pass through, and can even penetrate rocks for several kilometers. “Now, we have developed a new type of GPS with μ mesons called the Micromeasurement Positioning System (muPS), which can work underground, indoors, and underwater.”

MuPS was originally created to help detect changes on the seafloor caused by submarine volcanic or tectonic movements. It uses four aboveground meson detection reference stations to provide coordinates for underground meson detection receivers. Early versions of this technology required receivers to be connected to ground stations by wires, which greatly limited their mobility.

However, this latest study uses a high-precision quartz clock to synchronize the ground station and receiver, and the four parameters provided by the reference station plus a synchronous clock for measuring the “time-of-flight” of the μ meson can determine the coordinates of the receiver. This new system is called the Micromeasurement Wireless Navigation System (MuWNS).

To test MuWNS’ navigation capabilities, reference probes were placed on the sixth floor of a building, and the “navigator” took the receiver detector to the basement. They took the receiver and walked slowly through the corridor in the basement. While there is no real-time navigation, the measurements can be used to calculate their route and confirm the path they take.

“MuWNS currently has an accuracy between 2m and 25m and a range of up to 100m, depending on the depth and speed at which a person is walking. This is just as effective as single-point GPS positioning on the ground in urban areas, if not better. But it’s still far from practical, people need an accuracy of one meter, and the key to achieving this is time synchronization. Tanaka said.

Improving this system for real-time, accurate navigation depends on time and money. Ideally, the team wants to use a chip-scale atomic clock (CSAC).

“CSAC has been commercialized and is two orders of magnitude better than the quartz clock we currently use. However, this is too expensive for us to use now. But Tanaka expects CSAC phones to become cheaper as global demand for CSAC phones increases.

In the future, MuWNS may be used to guide underwater robots or autonomous vehicles underground. All of MuWNS’ electronic components except the atomic clock can now be miniaturized, so the team hopes to eventually fit it into handheld devices such as cell phones. In addition, in emergency situations such as building or mine collapse, related equipment can also greatly help search and rescue work. (Source: China Science News Xin Yu)

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