Pentagon boffinry chiefs have announced that they'd like a very small, super-accurate atomic clock, so small that one day you might build it on a chip. Apparently, they would like to mount these nano superclocks inside the heads of their planned spy legion of brainchipped cyborg zombie insects.
The Chip-Scale Atomic Clock (CSAC) effort is - of course - a brainchild of DARPA, the US military brainbox collective where dreams come true. Assuming that you dream of hypersonic spaceplanes, portable rayguns, mighty globe-roaming Z-wing stratocruisers, invincible semi-intelligent battle computers and things of that sort, anyway.
Why does DARPA want a super-accurate teeny clock on a chip?
Well, duh. For "such applications as nano/pico satellite systems, underwater vehicles, [robot aircraft], sensors, metrology instruments, etc".
God knows what a "metrology instrument" is, but the rest of that stuff sounds pretty impressive. And wait, there's more.
[The] aim is to leverage Chip-Scale Atomic Clock (CSAC) technology and other atom ensemble manipulation technology in general in developing MEMS/NEMS ...
MEMS stands for Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems, and NEMS is the nano version. DARPA's MEMS effort is perhaps most famous for its known aspirations to borg up live creatures, implanting controlling machine cores into them and using the hapless brainchip-zombified slaves for various purposes - spying and so on.
Tellingly, the CSAC nanoclock programme is being kicked off by DARPA's top MEMS boffin Dr Amit Lal, who says:
"Animal world has provided mankind with locomotion over millennia. For example we have used horses and elephants... [the] program is aimed to develop technology that provides more control over insect locomotion, just as saddles and horseshoes are needed for horse locomotion control ... The realization of cyborgs with most of the machine component inside the ... body will provide stealthy robots..."
Research thus far has mainly focused on chipping-up moths for use as covert surveillance platforms, or perhaps to deliver devastating strikes against al-Qaeda linen cupboards.
(There has, however, been related research in Belgium in which sexy robo-provocateur infiltrators were able to influence large groups of unsuspecting cockroach dupes into acting against their own best interests.)
One of the key snags in handling an everyday cyborg zombie slave is that of knowing where the hell it is - moths not being navigationally gifted - and also communicating with it. This is where a suitably microscopic clock mounted inside the fluttering bug-bug's head comes in handy, as it would be a building block towards equipping the moth-drone with an ultraminiaturised in-bonce satnav.
A more perfect microsystem developed for navigation, time keeping, and communications would include a near-perfect clock with high accuracy and stability. Ability to keep 1-10 ns time accuracy over days to a few microseconds over a year will allow new capabilities for handheld or ground-based sensors, GPS/GPS-denied navigation, and spread spectrum and data-packet communications.
Download the whole solicitation from DARPA here. If you want any money you'll need to be packing a few "micromachined ion traps", or alternatively a miniaturised Stern-Gerlach experimental apparatus mounted inside a Ramsey interrogation cavity. We used to have one but the wheel came off. ®