TSB-funded research project to tackle GPS jamming

A new research project aims to tackle GPS jamming that can disrupt police operations and interfere with airport navigation systems.

The Sentinel consortium, funded by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), is developing sensors to track devices that can interrupt signals from global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) such as GPS and Galileo.

The project, which will build on work by a previous TSB scheme GAARDIAN, will also look for ways to distinguish deliberate attempts to jam GNSS signals from natural interference.

Specialist electronics firm Chronos Technology is the lead partner in Sentinel, which also includes Bath University, Ordnance Survey and ACPO-ITS (a working group of the Association of Chief Police Officers).

Criminals stealing cars and lorries are increasingly using illegal GPS jammers to prevent police from tracking them, but they can also disrupt the guidance systems used by some airports to help planes on the ground navigate around runways.

‘People who use GPS jammers fall into different groups of users, such as someone stealing a car or somebody who actually wants to take out infrastructure, which could be rather nasty,’ Chronos managing director Charles Curry told The Engineer.

‘The challenge is that the jamming in more benign scenarios can also cause some real problems,’ he said, giving the example of a van driver in the US using a jammer to avoid detection by their boss but also interrupting the GPS system used by a nearby airport.

The Sentinel system will also be used to examine problems with e-LORAN (enhanced long range navigation) signals, which use low-frequency radio transmitters.

The team hopes to be able to triangulate the position of jammers using a network of sensors originally designed under GAARDIAN that can detect the direction of a jamming signal and the time the problem started.

These could be permanently deployed at an infrastructure location or set up temporarily by police for short-term operations.

Some jammers can operate over a very small area so a denser sensor network is needed with greater sensitivity to detect them.

‘Such sensors that can analyse the signal from a number of different perspectives do not really exist yet,’ said Curry.

‘The strategy is to take what we’ve done with GAARDIAN, which is very basic research, start to deploy it and see how easy it would be to detect problems.

‘One of the challenges faced in this business is that we can’t just deploy a GPS jammer and test it. We have to test at various trial places that the Ministry of Defence manages.’

The system will also need algorithms to differentiate jamming signals from natural disruption, such as the interference created by solar wind (charged particles from the sun that collide with the Earth).

‘Bath University is doing some analysis of the way the signal could be deviated from the multi-path perspective, which would be space weather events,’ said Curry.

The two-part project will begin in January 2011 and cost around £1.72m, including a £990,000 grant from the TSB and EPSRC, with the rest contributed by partners and other public-sector organisations.