GPS jammers have the potential to wreak havoc with countless critical systems. In collaboration with the University of Bath, Gloucestershire-based GPS and timing specialist Chronos is developing groundbreaking technology to detect these devices..

satellite in space

Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has become an integral part of modern life. It provides location information and directions for smartphones, satnav and more complex navigation systems like those of ships and planes. GPS satellites also contain atomic clocks that contribute very precise time data, crucial for synchronisation and operational efficiency in communication systems, financial networks and electrical power grids. Any disruption to the GPS signal could therefore have devastating consequences.

Chronos is the UK leader in time and timing for fixed and mobile telecoms, which use GPS for what the company’s founder and Managing Director, Charles Curry, describes as 'data traffic management'.

Five years ago Chronos and the University of Bath applied for a Technology Strategy Board (TSB) collaborative funding grant. The result was GAARDIAN, a project exploring the concept of GPS interference detection.

Chronos’ relationship with the University of Bath came about by chance. Curry was speaking at a convention hosted by the University and was introduced to Dr Robert Watson and Professor Cathryn Mitchell from the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering. Chronos had identified a vulnerability to the GPS signal - jamming and interference – and, with the University, decided to seek grant money to tackle it collaboratively.

Curry explains:

“A GPS satellite emits a very weak signal, equivalent to a 50 Watt light-bulb approximately 11,000 miles away, and this makes it very easy to disrupt. Logistics companies often install GPS trackers so they can follow the movements of vehicles, but drivers have started using jammers to prevent their journeys being tracked by their bosses.”

There is also evidence of jammers being used by thieves stealing commercial vehicles.

"The collaborative project set out to detect jammers as pure research,” says Curry. “We knew that there was a market opportunity but it was too early to exploit it. First we needed to prove that we could do the detection".

handheld gps deviceOnce the GAARDIAN project had proved that detection was possible, the project came to the attention of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the SENTINEL project was born.

“With SENTINEL we set out to do more than just detect: we are researching location techniques”, explains Curry.

The research project has deployed a quantity of monitors relaying incidents of GPS interference to a central server on a 24x7 basis. The project has resulted in the detection and confiscation by the police of one jammer.

Now the project team is focusing on fine-tuning the technology to eliminate any uncertainty about the source of the interference. For example natural events such as solar flares can disrupt GPS.

There is huge export potential for the technology. “We have created an industry,” says Curry. “We are ahead of the game, but now the world has woken up to this new market opportunity."

Location has played an important role in the development of the technology. As Curry says: "Working locally has been beneficial, especially being able to tap into the world class expertise that exists locally at the University of Bath."

He is also very clear that without the TSB collaborative research funding, none of it would have been possible.

"TSB collaborative funding and the mixing of SME with academic partner was the enabler - if we hadn't had that, we wouldn't have been able to take the idea off the drawing board.”

KEY FACTS

Chronos Technology Ltd

Established: 1986 by Charles Curry

Based: Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire

Size: 48 employees

GAARDIAN 

(GNSS Availability Accuracy Reliability anD Integrity Assessment for timing and Navigation)

December 2008 - March 2011

Funding: Technology Strategy Board (TSB) Competition - Gathering Data in Complex Environments

Partners:

- Chronos Technology Ltd (lead)

- University of Bath

- GLA – General Lighthouse Authorities

- Imperial College London

- BT – Adastral Research Laboratories

- Ordnance Survey

- National Physical Laboratory

SENTINEL

(SErvices Needing Trust In Navigation, Electronics, Location & timing)

24-month project started in January 2011

Funding: £1.5m awarded by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Partners:

- Chronos Technology Ltd (lead)

- ACPO-ITS – research arm of Association of Chief Police Officers

- GLA – General Lighthouse Authorities

- Ordnance Survey

- National Physical Laboratory, Timing Metrology Division

- University of Bath

- Thatcham – Vehicle Security

 

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