This page belongs to: Action Plan for Critical Technologies

Inertial navigation systems

Systems and devices that can calculate the position of an object relative to a reference point without using any external references.

Key sectors

  • Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing
  • Construction & Manufacturing
  • Defence & Defence Industry
  • Mining & Resources
  • Space
  • Transport & Logistics

Estimated impact on national interest

Economic Prosperity - High
National Security - High

Key Australian Government actions


  • Sovereign Industrial Capability Priorities


  • Defence and Strategic Goods List 2021

Example outcomes

  • Reduced dependency on GPS and other satellite based navigation systems
  • Fast detection and correction of GPS spoofing attacks
  • Reliable, high accuracy navigation in dense urban environments
  • Faster and more accurate surveying and mapping
  • Autonomous systems that can navigate to a specified location even when GPS or other external references (e.g. visible landmarks) are unavailable
  • Reliable in-door navigation without site specific infrastructure (e.g. Bluetooth beacons)
  • Accurate submarine navigation for long periods without surfacing
  • Equitable access for visually impaired people to more shared spaces
  • Off-earth and interplanetary satellite and robotics infrastructure

Underpinning science

ANZ Standard Research Classification

  • Applied mathematics
  • Software engineering
  • Data management and data science
  • Electronics, sensors and digital hardware
  • Communications engineering
  • Computer science
  • Electrical engineering
  • Optical physics
  • Geoinformatics
  • Geomatic engineering
  • Materials engineering

Example applications

Readiness Level – Now

  • ‘Hand-sized’, discrete-component high-accuracy fibre optic gyroscopes
  • Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) augmentation
  • Navigation of aircraft, guided weapons, drones, autonomous/underground/underwater vehicles
  • Basic motion detectors in mobile phones and robotic systems
  • Fitness level tracking
  • Movement analysis
  • Quantum positioning and compass

Readiness Level – 2–5 years

  • Improved dead-reckoning, enabling position estimation with less reliance on GPS systems
  • Increased augmentation of dead-reckoning with alternate references; e.g. celestial (star positions), polarised sunlight, 3D reconstruction from imagery
  • Wider use cases for autonomous vehicles where GPS may be unavailable; e.g. valleys, underground and underwater
  • Enhanced personal and crowd monitoring (physical and mental health) through motion behaviour analysis and improved motion detectors in mobile devices
  • Enhanced logistics and supply chain monitoring

Readiness Level – Beyond 5 years

  • Miniaturised, embeddable high-accuracy fibre optic gyroscopes
  • GPS-quality navigation without access to satellites for longer periods of time (hours) through the use of quantum inertial sensors
  • Increased augmentation of dead-reckoning with new sensor and computational capabilities; e.g. magnetic and gravity field mapping, real-time 3D reconstruction from video
  • Reliable navigation of autonomous vehicles in urban, forested, valley, underground and underwater environments
  • Quantum assisted inertial navigation devices

Australia's place in the world

Australia ranks 8th globally for research impact, led by the University of New South Wales. China has the highest research impact globally for inertial navigation systems (INS), with 8 of the top 10 performing institutions. The United States has more than double the amount of venture capital (VC) investment as the United Kingdom, which rank first and second respectively. Australia is unranked, globally, for VC investment. Global patent activity has been increasing by 15% p.a. since 2015, on average. China leads global patent activity for INS, significantly ahead of the United States; Australia ranks 14th.

Within Australia, Publicly Funded Research Agencies (including universities and CSIRO), small firms and defence industry, are leading work on INS technology. Defence, heavy industry and sea and air transport are driving the existing market for INS; shrinking component sizes and costs are expected to diversify and grow the market for INS, with increased integration of the technology in a broader range of devices and use cases.

Opportunities and risks

Satellite positioning and navigation has influenced countless aspects of Australia’s economy and security in the two decades since high accuracy services first became available to the public. INS promise similar transformational possibilities for environments where satellite positioning and navigation fails to penetrate, such as inside buildings, underground and underwater. Specific opportunities for INS include underground operation of mining vehicles, crewed and un-crewed submarine navigation, autonomous robotic swarms, jamming-resistant guided munitions, increased independence for the visually impaired and improved supply chain and logistics monitoring.

While GPS and similar navigation systems may seem ever-present, there are still many situations and environments where using external references for navigation are impractical, unreliable or impossible; for example, smartphones and other consumer devices generally struggle to receive satellite navigation signals inside large buildings, and even purpose-built professional and military systems stop functioning deep underground or underwater. High accuracy INS can make autonomous systems safer and more reliable by providing a navigational fall-back when external sensory feedback is impaired or fails. For example, INS could detect that an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flying at night is upside-down or that satellite navigation signals may be being spoofed.

Along with the promised benefits of INS, there are considerable risks associated with the potential dual use of such technology. For example, high-accuracy underwater drones offer effective border surveillance, however they can also be used for covert surveillance or malicious intent. Awareness and mitigation of these risks will be required to ensure the benefits are realised, without compromising our security.

Research impact (RI)

China has the highest research impact in this area, ahead of the United States. Australia is ranked 8th. Total volume of published research has been increasing at 5% p.a. over the five‑year period 2016–2020, with 15% of research involving international collaboration.

  1. China - 19889
  2. USA - 16021
  3. Italy - 6473
  4. UK - 5378
  5. Germany - 4547
  1. Australia - 3232

The research impact provides an indication of the productivity of a country or institution. Here, productivity was assumed to be represented by the volume of publications (i.e. scholarly output) as an indicator of the resources & facilities, and the level of interest in the publications as an indicator of quality.

VC investment

Australia is unranked for VC investment for inertial navigation systems. Investment in this area has been growing at 27% p.a. since 2016. The United States has significantly higher relative amounts of VC investment, well ahead of the United Kingdom.

  1. USA
  2. UK
  3. China
  4. Honk Kong
  5. France
  • (unranked) Australia

Data from Crunchbase. The Crunchbase database provides a partial view of the global VC landscape. However the quantity, quality and richness of the data are considered to be statistically significant, and indicative of global trends.

Patents - international

The number of patents being lodged annually in this field has been increasing by 15% p.a. since 2015. Most patents in this field were filed by applicants or inventors from China. Australia is ranked 14th.

  1. China - 4857
  2. USA - 1680
  3. Taiwan - 466
  4. Japan - 414
  5. Germany - 215
  1. Australia - 34

Research institutions - international

China has 8 of the top 10 institutions worldwide, including the top 5. Institutions from France and the United Kingdom fill out the top 10.

Rank Top International Institution Research Impact
1 Beihang University | China 1966
2 Southeast University, Nanjing | China 1295
3 Chinese Academy of Sciences | China 1222
4 Tsinghua University | China 1134
5 National University of Defense Technology | China 1052
6 French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) | France 917
7 Zhejiang University | China 892
8 Beijing Institute of Technology | China 874
9 Wuhan University | China 817
10 Newcastle University | United Kingdom 807

Research institutions - Australia

Within Australia, the University of New South Wales has the highest research impact, and is ranked 22nd, internationally. Second ranked, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, is ranked 45th internationally.

Rank Top Australian Institution Research Impact
1 University of New South Wales 549
2 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University 372
3 University of Melbourne 310
4 University of Queensland 279
5 Queensland University of Technology 266
6 University of Sydney 259
7 CSIRO 256
8 Deakin University 158
9 University of Technology Sydney 146
10 Curtin University 145

Patents - Australia

Top Australian Patent Applicants Patent Families
Underground Extraction Technologies 2

A number of Australian businesses have one patent family recorded in this technology area

Patents filed by Australian businesses, 2015–2019.