Synthetic Diamonds May Replace GPS

London: Lab-grown red diamonds with an atomic defect could one day replace GPS systems thanks to their remarkable sensitivity to magnetic waves, according to scientists at Element Six which is majority owned by De Beers.

A team at the firm is exploring the remarkable properties of crystals with a so-called ‘nitrogen vacancy defect’ – a gap in the atomic lattice at the heart of the diamond, according to a report in Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

The diamonds have shown great sensitivity to magnetic waves at room temperature, and are currently able to detect a car passing 300 meters away.

“The hope is that they could one day be attuned to pinpoint their own location on the surface of the planet by reading magnetic waves from the sun. This would eliminate the need for GPS satellites, which send signals back to earth to tell cars where they are. Such a breakthrough could make driverless cars a reality, as it would allow autonomous vehicles to move safely around each other.”

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

However, such a development could be decades away, the scientists warned. Their work is focused on improving the magnetic sensitivity of synthetic diamonds, which could also be used to replace MRI sensors. This could result in a helmet or handheld scanner that would probe a patient’s body without putting them inside an MRI tube.

Element Six primarily focuses on developing diamond-edged cutting tools for use in heavy industry, such as drill bits for oil and gas companies, the report added.

The company is also looking at how to use synthetic diamonds in quantum computing, a highly theoretical field that promises computational power far in excess of today’s digital machines.