Synthetic Diamonds Could Replace GPS

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【Summary】Synthetic diamonds could help bring self-driving cars to market sooner.

Original Timothy Healey    Jan 07, 2017 2:55 PM PT
Synthetic Diamonds Could Replace GPS
author: Timothy Healey    

Synthetic diamonds made in a laboratory could replace global positioning systems (GPS), and that be a key part of autonomous cars.

These lab-made red diamonds have an atomic defect. They're also very sensitive to magnetic waves, according to scientists, and that could allow them to replace GPS systems.

An England-based company called Element Six is exploring the properties of these diamonds, which have a nitrogen vacancy defect, or a gap in the atomic lattice at the heart of the diamond.

The diamonds are very sensitive to magnetic waves even at room temperature, and they can detect a vehicle that's passing by, even if the car is up to 300 meters away.

In theory, someday these diamonds could be tuned so that they could use magnetic waves from the sun to pinpoint their own location. That would eliminate the need for GPS.

That would help bring autonomous cars to market more quickly.

"If you have a device that is capable of sensing the surrounding magnetic fields, it also knows where it is," principal research scientist Richard Bodkin told The Telegraph. "So once you can harness all of those technologies into a single device, there is no reason why driverless cars can't be realized."

That doesn't mean it will happen soon. The scientists involved in the project said it could take decades to develop. They have to improve the sensitivity of the synthetic diamonds first.

Not only could these diamonds have automotive uses, but they could have medical uses, too. One such use would be to create a helmet or handheld scanner that could be used with patients instead of having them endure the hardship of an MRI tube.

Element Six mainly works to develop cutting tools that use diamond edges. These tools, usually drill bits, are used by oil and gas companies for drilling. Well-known diamond mine owner De Beers owns Element Six, which is based in Oxfordshire in England.

Other uses for these diamonds include quantum computing.

As for automotive, well, GPS is necessary for self-driving cars currently. But these diamonds, if the sensitivity could be improved, would make GPS unnecessary. That would in turn cut costs and complexity, which would be both helpful to get autonomous cars to market sooner and make them more affordable to the masses.

Not to mention that these diamonds could be used in aviation and naval applications as well.

Autonomous cars will come to market at some point with or without these diamonds, but if there's a breakthrough with these diamonds, it could help drive them to market sooner, for less money.

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