NPL to propel UK’s advancement in timing

March 25, 2024  - By
Peter Thompson, Ph.D., CEO of NPL, left, with Jim McDonald, professor at the University of Strathclyde. (Image: NPL)

Peter Thompson, Ph.D., CEO of NPL, left, with Jim McDonald, professor at the University of Strathclyde. (Image: NPL)

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has marked the inauguration of the first of three innovation nodes designed to enhance the United Kingdom’s capabilities in the development of time-critical technologies. The initiative is aimed at sectors such as transport, telecommunications, fintech and quantum with the application of accurate and precise timing.

In a collaborative effort between NPL and host organizations, including the University of Strathclyde, the University of Surrey and Cranfield University, the Innovation Nodes stand as a cornerstone of NPL’s National Timing Centre Programme. It represents the UK’s nationally distributed time infrastructure and offers secure, reliable, resilient and highly accurate time and frequency data. This infrastructure is crucial for the development of new technologies in time-critical 5G and 6G applications, next-generation automated factories and connected autonomous vehicles.

Throughout the development phase, the node sites at the Universities of Strathclyde, Surrey and Cranfield have hosted feasibility and demonstrator projects funded by Innovate UK, the United Kingdom’s innovation agency. These projects have benefited from technical consultancy and access to high-accuracy timing signals, which encourage the development of new products and services. These initiatives were created as an effort to establish an evidence base for redistributing positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) data to air and ground-based autonomous systems within a smart city infrastructure. This will ensure the safety, reliability and security of autonomous transport.

NPL welcomes collaboration with industry and academia to leverage the Innovation Nodes for access to traceable and high-accuracy timing signals and promises to stimulate further innovation and development in critical sectors.

Professor Paul Griffin of Strathclyde’s Department of Physics pointed out the vulnerabilities of GNSS to jamming and spoofing, underscoring the NTC’s mission to provide robust timing for the UK independent of GNSS. The initiative includes the use of atomic clocks at Anthorn in Cumbria, aligning with UTC through the NPL Time Over eLoran (NTOL) project, led by Chronos Technology. This project demonstrates the transmission of NPL’s timebase via eLORAN and its decoding by Strathclyde’s Power Networks Demonstration Center (PNDC), which is a significant advancement in securing the country’s timing infrastructure against potential threats.

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