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Patent Filed for Underwater GPS

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the under-achievements dept.

Communications 236

Matthew Sparkes writes "GPS doesn't work underwater, as the signal cannot reach the satellite from a submersible, but researchers have now patented an add-on to the system that could provide GPS navigation for submarines. A base station is tethered to the sea bed at a known depth and GPS location. A submersible anywhere in the area sends out a sonar pulse to which the base station replies with a signal, giving a GPS position and depth as well as the bearing angle from which the submersible's request arrived. The submersible then uses its own depth, which is easily measured, plus the round trip pulse time and the bearing angle sent by the base, to calculate its own position."

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Great! (5, Funny)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321341)

This is great!

How long before lost submarines are meandering up our rivers and streams because the GPS mapping told them this was the way to go?

On a slightly more serious note, no self respecting spy submarine will emit a ping to this service ever. There is no way you would want to give your position away so freely.

Re:Great! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321399)

I imagine that it would be used as a supplement to traditional submarine navigation methods. Submariners could check in with it very occasionally in order to correct any minor deviations and measure accuracy.

Re:Great! (3, Interesting)

hotdiggitydawg (881316) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321565)

How long before lost submarines are meandering up our rivers and streams because the GPS mapping told them this was the way to go?
Depends... if the beacon has been moved due to the tectonic plates shifting, well... GPS will probably be obsolete by then.

But if it's been moved by a seismic event (earthquake, volcano, etc) or a bunch of cheeky kids (aka. "terrorists") or even a large marine mammal, well, all bets are off...

Re:Great! (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321639)

I work on a system that measures the noise output from submarines as used fot validation when the navy purchases subs, and checking for objects that might need repair because they are causing noise on the outside of the sub. During the runs to get these measurements they bolt on a 1 to 8 second pinger so that we know where in the water to look. If we had exact GPS positioning, it would be fucking outstanding. But this won't really help with that, because what this bouy does to locate the sub relative to itself has got to be the exact same thing we do already to locate the boat (and its not that great. esp if the propeller is between the phones and the pinger)

Re:Great! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321731)

Hate to bring it up, but if this ever did catch on, just think about all the noise traffic this will cause underwater. Its already been shown the current levels of human caused noise are the cause for various animal beaching, id hate to think what this new system might do.

Re:Great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321745)

This seems only practical near the continental shelf... The ocean is a pretty big place. And pretty deep in places. Is anybody suggesting putting a workable array of these things throughout the seven seas?

Re:Great! (3, Funny)

MrShaggy (683273) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321749)

One ping and one ping only..

one ping to rule the world.

Re:Great! (1)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322423)

funny thing is, that works very well...

"bring them all", "find them", "In darkness"...

Re:Great! (1)

frosty_tsm (933163) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322339)

On a slightly more serious note, no self respecting spy submarine will emit a ping to this service ever.
Maybe not, but it will tell me where I am when my boat sinks!

Re:Great! (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322395)

"On a slightly more serious note, no self respecting spy submarine will emit a ping to this service ever. There is no way you would want to give your position away so freely." Not all submursibles are submarines. Think underwater research. And even submarines often operate in non-espionage missions; remember all the stories about sub sonar killing whales? This isn't the cold war anymore - most of our subs probably operate loud and proud most of the time.

Verify (1)

the_tsi (19767) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321367)

Verify range to GPS buoy. One ping... One ping only.

Re:Verify (2, Funny)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321445)

Ryan, be careful of what you ping. Some systems don't react well to sonar.

Which way do those signals go? (5, Informative)

goofy183 (451746) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321389)

Little nit pick ... GPS signals go from the satellite to the receiver not the other way around.

Re:Which way do those signals go? (2, Funny)

Radon360 (951529) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321475)

Darn...I think you just ruined this guy's patent.

Re:Which way do those signals go? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321615)

Little nit pick ... GPS signals go from the satellite to the receiver not the other way around.
I don't think this is nit-picking. It's a rather fundamental point to how GPS works.

Re:Which way do those signals go? (1)

LordKronos (470910) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322259)

Yes it is nitpicking. It may be fundamental to how GPS works, but no matter which way the communication goes, the point is that the communication cannot happen underwater, so here is an alternative.

Re:Which way do those signals go? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321915)

Yes, GPS signals go from the satellite to the receiver - the receiver in this case is the buoy, which uses the satellite signal to compute the buoy's location. The buoy sends its own computed location (along with bearing angle information) to the sub (or whatever pinged it). The sub uses the buoy's location, the bearing angle, the sub's depth, and the elapsed round-trip signal time to calculate its own position.

GPS is passive (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321393)

GPS doesn't work underwater, as the signal cannot reach the satellite from a submersible

GPS is a passive system, the device never sends a signal to the satellite. Of course that mistake is widespread, as TV and Movies always show 'GPS trackers' that do just that.

Re:GPS is passive (2, Funny)

klik (93694) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321465)

thats what THEY tell you...

Re:GPS is passive (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321701)

alot of the GPS trackers you are thingking of like On Star.. recive info from GPS get location and then send out location to home via the wonderful cell network

Re:GPS is passive (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321815)

As the other poster pointed out GPS trackers gather GPS data the send it to a remote location(ie cell tower) where the processing is done , the finished data is then sent to your cell phone company. That is how onstar works, and most GPS cell phones. That way the phone doesn't need the processor to do the math for it.

Re:GPS is passive (5, Interesting)

LionMage (318500) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322225)

This misconception has caused no end of headaches for one company I used to do consulting work for. The company was outfitting fleets of cement trucks with CDPD tracker modems -- these devices had a fully-featured GPS receiver, and could be configured to transmit latitude and longitude to a specific IP address on a specific port at a specified interval. (Nuts-and-bolts: the data was typically sent as UDP packets, so no guarantee of delivery, and CDPD is an older standard for data transmission over digital cell networks, with a max throughput of maybe 64 kbps.) We had software that would aggregate the GPS data for the entire fleet at a server, and then client software which would talk to the server and show real-time reports on the fleet, as well as determine who was at a job site and how long they were there, etc.

Unlike what another poster stated regarding cell phones, the tracker devices we used did all the GPS processing on-board, so what was sent via UDP was either a NMEA string (easily parsed) or some simple proprietary binary format. We would do further corrections at the server to account for various map books and which USGS survey data they were based off of.

Anyway, the problem we has was the truck drivers and their misconception of how GPS worked. Many of the more paranoid truck drivers (and there were a lot of them) were absolutely convinced that we were beaming personal data about the drivers themselves to GPS satellites, forwarding it to who knows where. Trying to explain to these folks that GPS doesn't work that way only resulted in angry confrontations. When I started working on a badging project so that our client could further track the comings-and-goings of the drivers, the hostility and resistance reached alarming levels, to the point where I almost couldn't get work done.

Then again, the whole reason for the software's existence in the first place was to provide documentary proof of the misconduct of drivers. Things like guys taking half-hour naps in their trucks after finishing a job site, or over-slumping their load of concrete so they can sell some excess concrete to a buddy finishing his driveway... We implemented autmated job-site entry and exit discovery because we found that giving drivers a set of pushbuttons to signal when they were starting or stopping a job was just a recipe for abuse. (Funny enough, we kept the pushbuttons to see just how big the discrepancies were between when drivers said they were working and when the GPS claimed they were working. It was eye-opening.)

The drivers were unionized in most cases, so a high standard of proof had to be met. I'm sure that contributed to the air of hostility. But it's also true that many drivers were using fake credentials (many being undocumented immigrants), so the paranoia over a potential loss of privacy and transmission of personal data to a "big bird in the sky" wasn't just because people were worried about getting caught napping on company time.

Not mentioning the names of any companies (nor any specific geographic place names) to avoid legal hassles.

hmm (2, Interesting)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321397)

A submersible anywhere in the area sends out a sonar pulse to which the base station replies with a signal,

So instead of being available to anyone who can get the signal its only available to those who can communicate with it. This will probably limit the number of positioning systems that can be used at one time. I hope they will make provisions for emergency uses of the system.

Re:hmm (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321675)

Hopefully no damn fool relies on this system in an emergency.

A $2000 electronic box isn't really a big deal to most people that spend quality time in submarines.

Great (4, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321437)

Just another way to bombard marine life with Sonar. Can we please get out of this mentality that convinces us that using active sonar all day is a great idea?

Mod parent up (1)

Umbrel (1040414) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321515)

I thought it was stated that high intensity sonic pulses was VERY perjuditial to marine life, causing wheels to get lost and potentially killing small fishes

ups (1)

Umbrel (1040414) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321681)

That's a new record... how did I spelt wheels for whales. :-/

Re:Mod parent up (5, Funny)

p3d0 (42270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321877)

I hate it when people are perjuditial to wheels.

Re:Mod parent up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321977)

Yes, save the wheels. My feet are killing me.

Re:Great (1)

razorh (853659) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321923)

but I'm sure we can work a deal where we can let the whales use these stations as well... for a small fee of course .

Re:Great (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321931)

i will get out of using sonar, the day someone comes up with something better.

It is the only thing we have for deep water wireless comms, and sensors radio waves don't propagate well. Lasers also don't work very well. Sonar is the best we have. It has been refined so it is not nearly as bad as it was. The Navy has been experimenting with higher power levels to increase resolution. That's where the animal suffering comes in.

Earn your billion dollars and find another way. I personally like microwaves. that way the fish get cooked while we kill them. [/sarcasm]

Re:Great (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322133)

Hey! Nuclear subs dont need air or fuel but their crews need food.
Fish is a good option especially if its already cooked and ready to eat. ;)

It makes me wonder what we are ... (1)

freaker_TuC (7632) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322061)

humans perpetrating the ocean ... all your oceans belong to us!

I wonder if they military think-tanks would like it, to have a sound blasted every x seconds towards their house/bedroom?

Re:Great (1)

HTTP Error 403 403.9 (628865) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322151)

Just another way to bombard marine life with Sonar. Can we please get out of this mentality that convinces us that using active sonar all day is a great idea?
How else are we to slay sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads?

Stupid question .... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321439)

But, certainly military subs have been figuring out their location for quite some time.

What is the current mechanism of position-fixing used for subs? Or is it more of the 'traditional' type of navigation where you know where you started, what direction you travelled, how fast and how long?

I'm actually surprised subs don't have an analogue to GPS. Then again, admittedly, I don't know much about subs or most things nautical. :-P


Re:Stupid question .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321535)


*Expensive* and *accurate* INS...

Re:Stupid question .... (3, Informative)

tbo (35008) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321571)

What is the current mechanism of position-fixing used for subs? Or is it more of the 'traditional' type of navigation where you know where you started, what direction you travelled, how fast and how long?

Subs have highly accurate inertial navigation systems. I've seen one on of the labs at Stanford where they develop the sensors, and it's amazing. It's kind of like a warehouse, with one of those huge 20 or 40 ton cranes. They use the crane to haul large masses around, and the sensors are able to detect the variations in the gravitational field caused by those objects.

On top of that, the navy has all sorts of charts of the sea floor, many of which are probably classified to some degree or other. Subs can use "landmarks" on the sea floor to determine their position. Since highly precise navigation is usually only important in coastal waters, this works pretty well.

Re:Stupid question .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321809)

You mean a Forward mass sensor? Actually fairly simple in principle, the devil is in the details!

As far as I know... (1)

mbessey (304651) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321603)

Most navigation in subs is done based on dead reckoning, using highly-detailed charts of the sea floor. At least, that's how they do it in the movies :-) And it's always the reckless captain that endangers the sub by insisting on going faster than the navigator recommends, or trying to get a little too close to that underwater mountain...

Subs that are near the surface can send up tethered bouys to contact satellites for communication and location purposes, of course. I don't know if there are any position-indicating beacons permanently installed on the seabed, but I'd doubt it.

Re:Stupid question .... (1)

BenJeremy (181303) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321613)

I'm absolutely positive they do.

This system, however, as a supplimental to the existing systems used in navigation, would provide greater accuracy and a means to recalibrate existing systems.

I can see this being used in the future to allow submarines the ability to navigate more accurately, even away from a GPS buoy, through shallow areas, thanks to the correction from any drift they may have encountered since their last surfacing.

Inertial guidance, dead reckoning, undersea terrain tracking and of course, the standard compass all provide means for navigation underwater, but some are imprecise and cumulative error will creep in during long undersea voyages. Surfacing to re-calibrate the navigation systems exposes a submarine to potentially hostile observation by air and satellite. A simple "ping" minimizes that exposure, as long as a hostile presence isn't already nearby in the water.

Re:Stupid question .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321865)

Actually a combination of these things are used, at least in the U.S. Navy. They check topography, they have nav guys plotting courses by hand, and they have sonar. All of this together gives you a very accurate idea of where you are. Obviously this is a good idea if you want to launch a missile at someone.

The inconvenience right now, is if the sub needs to raise an antenna at periscope depth. For a missile sub, that means a lot of preparation, checking timetables to make sure non-U.S. satellites are not overhead, checking off with sonar to make sure no contacts are near, etc. Ohio class missile subs are fairly long boats, meaning: operating at periscope depth is tricky if there's any kind of rough water. A single degree of pitch is ~7 feet vertical difference between bow and stern, which can be enough to break the surface. It's stressful on the guy operating the stern planes.

Anything they can do to reduce the amount of time spent at periscope depth makes the boat that much safer.

Re:Stupid question .... (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322039)

But, certainly military subs have been figuring out their location for quite some time.

What is the current mechanism of position-fixing used for subs? Or is it more of the 'traditional' type of navigation where you know where you started, what direction you travelled, how fast and how long?

The current mechanism is, best as I know, inertial navigation systems periodically recalibrated by GPS when the submarine is at a depth to use GPS, with dead reckoning, as always, the ultimate fallback.

Certainly, Tom Clancy's Submarine of, IIRC, about a decade-and-a-half to two ago (I'm too lazy to Google for the date right now) commented on the space saved in Los Angeles SSNs by using GPS instead of older, bulkier navigation instruments.

Re:Stupid question .... (3, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322179)

They probably have inertial guidance. The missiles carried by missile subs definitely have inertial guidance.

Basically the principle of operations is simple. You start at a known position and speed. If you continually integrate your acceleration (readily measurable), you know your instantaneous velocity at any point in time. Integrate that and you have your position at any point in time.

The big advantage of inertial navigation is entirely self contained. It requires neither signals from the outside nor does it send signals to the outside. I suppose the subs can rise to periscope depths every so often to compare their position to GPS.

My late father in law worked on inertial navigation systems for the Apollo program and the Trident Missile program. Remember the Apollo 13 movie, where they're so worried about "gimbel lock" That was the one way you could head the space craft in such a way the gyros could not move freely; once that happened, you didn't know where you were, at least not enough to get the right reentry path that would get you into the atmosphere without burning up or missing the Earth entirely. He worked on those gyros. Later he worked on laser "gyros" that didn't have mechanical parts to lock up.

Once he visited the naval base in Alameda, bring a suitcase sized inertial navigation instrument from Cambridge MA. The device was precse enough to tell him that the naval base was using wrong figures for their geographic position.

Radar? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321459)

Umm...I think the Britons patented this during WWII and called it R-A-D-A-R

Your customer sets the design (4, Interesting)

Chairboy (88841) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321467)

This technology, like GPS, would most likely have military as the initial customer, hence the customer that sets the design. For GPS, a completely passive system was designed so that an asset could calculate where it was without giving out information to nearby enemies that it was there.

The primary customer for something like this would probably also be the military, so I imagine the actual equipment would be passive as well. There's no persuasive reason to make the sensors wait for a query, just have them send out a pulse at regular intervals that contain their location, a precise time stamp, depth and water temperature. This is enough data for a passive submarine to use to calculate position (the depth and temperature affect the propagation of sound waves). There would be imprecision because the speed of sound is variable, of course, but you'd have a system that won't give away the presence of a submarine the way you would if said sub was "pinging" for the info.

Re:Your customer sets the design (1)

Radon360 (951529) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321693)

I don't think that it would be out of reason to see a commercial/scientific version of something like this to eventually come along. It could improve the quality and reduce the cost of underwater surveying or other bathymetry. Such users would be less concerned about having a stealth technology that the Military would so strongly desire.

Re:Your customer sets the design (1)

Mr.Ziggy (536666) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321725)

Assumption that this is for military is wrong. The military has their own (expensive) system for underwater positioning, and an active sonar ping tells others more information than you receive. This has scientific applications for research, and commercial diving, although they would have to weigh the value of information vs. disturbance to marine life due to active pinging. Having a relatively easy GPS system to use underwater would be nice. I've used a compass and GPS on the surface for scuba diving to drop down to the same spot, but it's still difficult with currents and low visibility. When you descend down, you don't move straight, so with low visibility you can't see where you were supposed to be.

Re:Your customer sets the design (1)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322001)

No offense, but the military wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole. The whole point of a submarine is to be silent. Active sonar is anything but silent. You might say "Well then the base station will use active sonar then!" And then I'll say those base stations will probably have a lot of accidents since some people dont want their subs to be found.

Re:Your customer sets the design (3, Interesting)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322015)

I don't think the military would use this on a large scale, and certainly not in a war zone.

1. it's an active system. The military avoid the use of active sonar on subs as much as possible.

2. it's impractical. These beacons would have a range of maybe 100 km, so you'd need to seed lots of them if you wanted to cover a large area.

3. the beacon can be compromised by the enemy.

The only military use I see is to aid navigation on the approaches of the sub's home port, so it can stay underwater as long as possible. Even then, those approaches are mapped accurately enough that they can navigate using inertial navigation.

Due to #2, I expect this system will be popular in situations where you operate in a limited area, but need accurate positioning within that area. Scientific exploration and sea mining/drilling operations come to mind. Submarine cable operations as well, perhaps (for accurate positioning in relation to the ship).

It would still give away your position (1)

jmarkantes (663024) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322071)

If the beacon transmits periodically without you having to transmit a request, your position could still be given away. A listener near by could detect the reflection of the beacon's ping off of your sub. It would affectively be like using active sonar to detect another sub, but you get to stay quiet. In a way it'd be like the semi-active radar of the AIM-7 Sparrow missile.

Then again, you also could detect the reflection ping off other objects that weren't there before. Assuming the surrounding area would have a 'baseline' sound fingerprint, which I would guess the military would try to do.


important misconception (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321471)

Satellite GPS is purely one-way: no signal is trying to "reach the satellite". It's a good thing that this patent covers two-way-signal underwater tracking, so that we can still set up a superior one-way underwater GPS system :)

But... (1)

neowolf (173735) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321485)

Generally submarines, especially combat ones, don't "ping" anyway- it is too easy to trace their position if they do.

Also- it seems that in a war situation- these "base stations" would be pretty high on a target list...

It does sound like a very interesting idea though.

All your GPS base... (2, Insightful)

Wiseazz (267052) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321487)

...are been moved 10 meters south.

Nice thing about satellites is that they're unaffected by earthquakes and giant squid... but whoever implements this is probably smarter than I am so I won't worry about it.

deserves a patent (3, Insightful)

hey (83763) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321505)

Seems to me that this is the kind of unique idea that deserves a patent.
Unlike most software patents.

mod offtopic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321545)

do you have some kind of problem keeping your pet peeves from entering every story? you suck.

Re:deserves a patent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321957)

What about DME (distance measuring equipment) [] ? The only thing novel is the use of sonar rather than radio.

Re:deserves a patent (3, Funny)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322067)

Yes but unfortunately it will cause a flood (No pun intended) of "Underwater" software patents now. You're going to have underwater one-click shopping, Underwater shopping carts. Underwater mp3 compression... and the USPTO will grant Every... Single... One.

Re:deserves a patent (1)

coredog64 (1001648) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322405)

Does this mean that submarine patents are okay?

Great strategic advantage... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321507)

All of a sudden, U.S. is able to know the most precise location of Russian nuclear submarines that utilize such sonars for their positioning systems. :-)

I believe every military power should use this system for their submarines, at least someone would know where's everyone. And maybe do some traffic control in congested area around Bering sea (hint: Kursk)...

Pointless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321521)

The majority of submarines are military submarines. The one thing military submarines don't like using? Active sonar...

This is better than Doppler, Why? (1)

LibertineR (591918) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321621)

Have Subs not been navigating for um...years?

How many base stations, what kind of range before a sub has to send out a pulse that would fry Moby Dick?

And wont this say to every other sub; "Hey MOFO, I'm over here, about to light up your ship, baby!"?

Who needs it?

Think unmanned (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321753)

It has advantages for that application, not least of which is a lot less computational power has to be used keeping track of where you are.

roll call (1)

lelitsch (31136) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321659)

Everyone who doesn't believe that the US Navy solved this problem a few decades ago raise their hands! Like in '78 when they launched the satellites, or '79 when the Trident missile entered service....

same old story (5, Funny)

rodney dill (631059) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321677)

Men will do anything to avoid stopping and asking for directions

Re:same old story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18322199)

Yes, and seamen will do anything to avoid stopping.

Re:same old story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18322417)

Funniest thing I've read all day.

Doesn't work like that at all (1)

fireman sam (662213) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321715)

"GPS doesn't work underwater, as the signal cannot reach the satellite from a submersible"

GPS satellites transmit the time, the GPS receiver receives these transmissions are uses the differences to calculate the location of the receiver.

Just thought I would mention that :)

Could it be... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321721)

...that Slashdot journalists start reporting about patents that are, for a change, not-interesting instead of retarded?

Adverse Effects (1)

dlhm (739554) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321759)

How would they stop Differing thermoclines and salinity content levels from affecting the speed of the signal sent to and from the submarine? Even a Small Delay could put it way off course... I tried to RTFA but it woudln't load..

Re:Adverse Effects (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321963)

What I want to know is: have they taken into account that due to plate tectonics, the sea floor spreads? "Anchoring" anything to the sea floor guarantees it will move, although certainly a lot slower than a satellite whirling through space.

Re:Adverse Effects (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18322361)

those are *geostationary* satellites...

This has questionable accuracy... (1)

squidguy (846256) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321769)

Given that sound waves curve in areas of different density (just like light), the receiver must accurately know the acoustic conditions and path between itself and the source else the location is suspect, no?

Nothing New Here (5, Interesting)

kitecamguy (547592) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321825)

Been there, done that. Only difference is we didn't have GPS, only LORAN. You don't need GPS, you just need a sonar transponder whose location is well-known.

1977, aboard RV Melville (Scripps IO). We drop 3 sonobuoy transponders to the ocean floor in a large triangle (few kilometers per side). We know the approximate locations only, since they were after all dropped. Ship sails around doing research and pinging away; record round trip times to each transponder; invert large number of observations to solve for locations of each transponder relative to each other; within a day we know the relative locations accurate to within a few meters (maybe better, I don't recall); meanwhile ship is recording LORAN locations; the LORAN locations are cross-correlated with the relative transponder locations (which are more accurate); net result is that transponder coordinates now have a geographic reference (xy to lat-long).

Two issues with the GPS version: (1) you need to anchor to ocean bottom and have antenna at surface, therefore you need a lot of cable/wire; (2) the surface GPS (antenna) position is NOT the same as the transponder, since the cable is certainly not going to be perfectly vertical. Maybe you don't need to anchor it, just let it drift, then #1 doesn't matter.

Someone said this sounds eminently patentable. No, I don't think so!

Re:Nothing New Here (1)

644bd346996 (1012333) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322113)

It sounds very patentable. It's just that you seem to have quite a bit of prior art in your background.

Re:Nothing New Here (1)

Dan Ost (415913) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322397)

If there's quite a bit of prior art, wouldn't that make it unpatentable?

Or am I missing something about the purpose of prior art in the patent process?

Where's the "GPS"? (2, Insightful)

snarkbot (1074793) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321845)

"A base station is tethered to the sea bed at a known depth and GPS location." Why does it have to be a "GPS" location? Once the depth and location are known, why is GPS needed at all for this system? (This is a serious question -- I'm wondering if I'm missing something about the setup described.)

Unless the base station is 1) going to move; 2) close enough to the surface to receive GPS signals; and 3) powerful enough in transmission/reception to communicate with submarines, I'm just not sure what the "GPS" aspect is for.


Re:Where's the "GPS"? (1)

flatulus (260854) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321951)

If you read the patent, it does not require GPS - it can use it if available, but it is a "geoposition" technology. GPS is another geoposition technology. They do the same job, in similar ways.

Just another case of somebody calling something "GPS" with no clue what it is they are actually saying.

Prior art (1)

15Bit (940730) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321851)

I'm surprised there isn't prior art on large parts of this - we've been using sonar for decades for mapping, target acquisition and whole lot of areas related to range and direction finding.

Not likely. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321853)

In submarine sonar, all sorts of things can affect the propagation of sound at depth, not the least of which is the thermal layer, a depth at which the water above is significantly warmer (and less dense) than the water below it. Not only can this prevent penetration of sound energy entirely, but it can also cause a very similar effect for sound that the water/air boundary causes to light. Ever stick a spoon in a glass and observe that it appears bent? Similar concept. I fail to see how a bearing indication from a fixed item at a different depth could provide any more accurate a position than the Inertial Navigation and Laser-Ring Gyros that are used today.

Nothing to do with GPS (4, Interesting)

kfstark (50638) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321897)

Basically, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Global Positioning System. It does not use the signal from the GPS satellites. It does not use any kind of GPS receiver.

This is an underwater positioning system using acoustic ranging from a prepositioned devices on the sea floor which has an accurate position. The obvious question is how do you get the position of the base station. This could possibly be done with GPS using a sea surface GPS based bouy, but there is no specifics on this.

Remember, GPS is a PASSIVE system. Nothing is sent to the satellite.


Will it ever see the light of day? (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321899)

The real question is: Will this ever actually be deployed? The market for submarines is small, at best, and there's a lot of ocean floor to cover before this would be generally useful. Also, in wartime, it's rather easier to take out a tethered buoy, even a submerged one, than the GPS satellite system. I'd rate the as a 2 out of 3 of never happening beyond a Proof of Concept stage.

Re:Will it ever see the light of day? (1)

guruevi (827432) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322321)

There are people believing that we will be living under water in one or more big 'Atlantis'-type quarters within 20-200 years. Quite interesting to hear the possibilities and ideas.

Re:Will it ever see the light of day? (1)

coredog64 (1001648) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322439)

I think you mean "Atlanta". You know, the one with the giant Delta hub.


Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18321937)

Or do you want the terrorists to win by stealing our underwater GPS because we didn't patent it?

What will you tell your children when they ask you why we closed waterworld because the terrorists have underwater GPS so they can live underwater and destroy whole countries above the surface-of-evil???

...I thought so!

This isn't patented....summary wrong (2, Informative)

kansas1051 (720008) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321943)

Filing a patent application does not mean that you have "patented" something. The link in the summary takes you to a patent application publication. Patent applications typically publish 18 months after they are filed (or in this case, 18 months after the earliest application to which priority is claimed). With USPTO backlogs, it will probably be 5-7 years before anyone at the USPTO even looks at this application and "patents" this invention.

Prior Art (1)

lcreech (1491) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321973)

The Navy has been doing just this for many years. Using GPS (albiet in it's infancy)in October 1983 I was surveying transponder networks used for underwater navigation. There was an article about it in Aviation Week and Space Technology around that time period as well.

So now... (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#18321983)

...I guess "underwater" is the new "on the internet" when it comes to patents.

Run noisy, run deep? (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322003)

Well, if you're willing to give away your position just to find your position, then this is fine. I'd like to see them solve this problem for a sub that's running silent. Since almost all subs are military, and stealthiness is important, that's the real problem. If they don't care about giving away their position, they might as well raise their tethered antenna package above the water-line. That would be a lot less expensi... oh... wait... it's the military. Yes. Let's order this system right now. Better have a a backup network too, in case the primary network goes down.

Interesting but underwater GPS is not entirely new (2, Interesting)

@madeus (24818) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322005)

This seems pretty cool, as it doesn't require anything floating on the surface to be able to work.

However (and without disregarding the significance of this system), GPS systems designed for use underwater that work in a similar way have been in use by divers and submarines for years, the exception being they rely on a buoy floating above to get it's position from GPS (and then, I believe, calculate the depth/angle from the buoy - which itself is able to get it's own position using GPS for a fairly accurate reading that is trustworthy).

It seems possible even a small buoy floated - even a small one designed to be very difficult to detect - could in theory give away a that a sub was in the area, if it was spotted during the presumably brief period during which it was being floated to take a reading. However, I'm inclined to think the likelyhood of that being a real problem is fairly small and it's not worth giving up the convenience of being able to do that - not forgetting the same approach also allows you to fit a receiver to it that is able to perform other functions like receiving a high bandwith data transmission.

The alternative approach that would be required by the system described in this parent would seem to involve the navy having to go around planting somewhat less transient transmitters on the ocean wherever they are operating in the world - which seems like even more of a giveaway. It also seems they will in any case need to take a reading from the surface before they plant the underwater base station, so while once established in a warzone it could be quite useful for the period the submarine was engaged in operations, you'd need to go and plant it the area in the first place, and presumably it would be fairly easy for the enemy to find and disable - or even just move it and really cause trouble...

Though I don't know what the range is, perhaps it could remain well out of harms way - from a brief reading it seems to outline one method that works over a not-so-useful 10 km, but mentions another that apparently gives accurate readings over thousands of km.

So while it's a neat idea, current technology (float a buoy with a small GPS receiver in it every now and then, maybe do a data transmission at the same time - and have the ability to that from anywhere in the world without having a base station already set up in the area) doesn't seem in need of a pressing replacement.

I should add while I know commercial industry does this (and it's used by divers), but I don't know if military submarines actually use this approach, though I can't see any unsurmountable justification that would prevent them from doing so.

GPS != navigation (1)

tonigonenstein (912347) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322053)

This system has absolutely nothing to do with the GPS, since neither the submersibles nor the base stations use it. The base stations seem to work like a VOR-DME [] , a decades old technology. But I guess adding "underwater" makes it patentable.

And by the way, from the summary:

GPS doesn't work underwater, as the signal cannot reach the satellite from a submersible
In the GPS the signal doesn't go from the receiver to the satellite but the other way around.

Gives away your position (1)

molotov303 (182638) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322065)

signal cannot reach the satellite from a submersible

GPS uses one-way communication, so there is never a need for a signal to reach a satellite. This is also the reason no one who operates a submersible on it's own (where it would need positioning data) would ever use this service. You would have to give away your position, and if you were willing to do that you would surface and use GPS.

Underwear GPS?? (1)

iamacat (583406) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322077)

I mean, I can see the benefits. You can find out where your wandering spouse is spending the night. AND people think you are happy to see them, especially if you extend the antenna.

Re:Underwear GPS?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18322227)

At first glance I too thought the title said underware gps.

Say what? (1)

Rorschach1 (174480) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322111)

" the signal cannot reach the satellite from a submersible"

Since when do you need to get a signal TO the satellites? (The GPS ground control segment excluded, of course.) Obvious errors and poorly-written summaries aside, though, the real question would be how it performs with real-world acoustic propagation. How does it deal with reflections and refractions from obstacles, thermoclines, the surface, and the ocean floor?

What does this system have to do with GPS? (2, Interesting)

ChrisA90278 (905188) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322185)

This system sounds like it is completely independent of GPS. The tethered bouys would have no need for GPS they would have their position set into them when they were placed on their tether and as this would never change it would not need to receive a GPS signal. So where is the tie in to GPS? OK the ship that is dropping the bouys might have a GPS aboard but it could use some other navigation system.

As for military subs not wanting to give their possition away. Yes of course they would not use this. I suspect the best use of this would be for non-millitary scientific or salvage subs.

One way to make a sonar based system that would be require the sub to emit signals is to have each bouy send it's location and the exact time. Subs could passively listen to this an deduce their position. This is exactly how GPS currently works with pasive radio recievers

Another way for a sub to directly use GPS that might even work for the military would be to place a GPS antenna in a small float and release the float tethered to a long wire.

Already done (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18322193)

US Subs has been doing this for years... another patent on an idea already in use...

This can't be very accurate... (1)

JustNiz (692889) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322211)

as the speed of sound through water is not a constant, but is affected by water temperature.
Furthermore you can't presume the water temperature is constantly the same as the temperature of that measured outside the sub, as the temperature of the sea is not constant and the sea has transient thermal layers, which themselves reflect sound at the boundaries.

Brilliant! (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322275)

Take a platform who's only real reason for existing is stealth, and give it a navigation system that reveals its presence and location.

If (manned) submarines don't care about their location that can just surface to antenna depth and use the (*&^^## GPS.

Addon??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18322325)

Why is this being touted as an addon for GPS? It doesn't even come close to approximating the functionality of GPS ie. being able to get an accurate location anywhere on the planet. You would likely need thousands of these to get GPS like functionality. This is simply sonar based location using a known landmark. In wartime, these things would be very easy to locate and destroy or use yourself. I doubt the system can even legally be used in the majority of locations the private sector would use them, due to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

GPS is the correct acronym (1)

Launch (66938) | more than 7 years ago | (#18322329)

GPS = Global Positioning System, just because the current system is something else doesn't make "underwater" not GPS. Currently many GPS recievers supplment their satalite singal with something simular to this idea: WAAS (which is just another satellite, but kinda the same idea).

Anyway, I can't wait for "Tom, Tom, bring me to Atlantis."

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