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Is It Really GPS If It Doesn't Use Satellites? 298

Posted by Soulskill
from the is-it-really-a-hot-dog-if-it's-not-made-from-dogs? dept.
cartechboy writes: "GPS was originally developed by the military, but today it's in your smartphones, and soon, possibly your watches. Now the British military is developing something called quantum compass. The concept is a GPS-style navigation for submarines that doesn't use satellites. The quantum compass uses the movements of super-cooled subatomic particles to pinpoint a vessel's location. These particles, stored in a vacuum, react to the Earth's magnetic field. The movements caused by this interaction can be used for location positioning. At the moment, the Ministry of Defense's prototype resembles a '1-meter long shoe box,' so the next step is to miniaturize it. It could then be used by individual soldiers, as well as huge ships and submarines. Not only is it useful, but it's secure too—the technology is apparently interference-proof. Is this the future of navigation systems, or the reinvention of the compass? Possibly both."
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Is It Really GPS If It Doesn't Use Satellites?

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  • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmhNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday May 22, 2014 @10:58AM (#47066187) Journal

    Good luck with that.

  • Well ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @10:58AM (#47066195) Homepage

    Does it provide you with an accurate position on the globe?

    As far as I know GPS means "global positioning system", and doesn't include the word satellite.

    • Re:Well ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy (595695) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:10AM (#47066393) Homepage
      GPS specifically refers to the system created by the US military for tracking your position using a bunch of satellites they put up there. Just because the acronym expands out to something rather generic doesn't mean it doesn't mean a specific implementation. FTP expands out to File Transfer Protocol. That doesn't mean that bittorrent is FTP because it's also a protocol for transferring files. There are other systems like GLONASS that help you determine you position, and also use satellites. But it would be confusing to call them both GPS, because GPS refers to a specific implementation. If you're going to call things that aren't GPS as GPS, then you might as well call navigating by the stars GPS.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        GPS specifically refers to the system created by the US military for tracking your position using a bunch of satellites they put up there.

        This is only true because before the array of satellites deployed by the US military, there was no other system for finding your global position. With the advent of new technology that does the same thing, GPS should be generalized to refer to any system that does the same, not just one particular system.

        • Re:Well ... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:30AM (#47066657) Homepage

          Exactly, and when you use the Russian system you dont use GPS. you use GLONASS. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G... [wikipedia.org]

          • Re:Well ... (Score:5, Funny)

            by Doug Otto (2821601) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:11PM (#47067095)
            No. In Russia, GLONASS uses you!
          • Exactly, and when you use the Russian system you don't use GPS. you use GLONASS.

            To be clear, in Soviet Russia, GLONASS uses you. (and the acronym actually includes the word "satellite".)

            From Wikipedia:

            GLONASS acronym for "Globalnaya navigatsionnaya sputnikovaya sistema" or "Global Navigation Satellite System" ...

        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          How do you think they sailed across the sea and circumnavigated the globe hundreds of years ago? They were able to look at the position of the stars, and calculate quite accurately where they were on the earth. The sextant [wikipedia.org] was often used for sailors to determine their position out at sea. It could be accurate within a few nautical miles. which is pretty good considering the technology at the time.
          • wasn't that only useful for finding the latitude? accurately finding longitude wasn't really possible until accurate clocks/watches were developed?

            • Re:Well ... (Score:4, Informative)

              by donscarletti (569232) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:27PM (#47068137)

              A sextant can find longitude through the lunar distance method, comparing the moon's position to that of a reference star and looking up that position in a Nautical Almanac to find Greenwich Time. This method was actually discovered a few years after the marine chronometer was invented, but was the dominant method during the 18th century because of the insane cost of chronometers at the time.

              A sextant is also needed to find the local time at your current location regardless of whether you use a chronometer or the moon to find GMT, so it's at the least half of the process in finding longitude either way.

        • Re:Well ... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by The Grim Reefer (1162755) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:19PM (#47067209)

          This is only true because before the array of satellites deployed by the US military, there was no other system for finding your global position.

          Not true. From the Wikipedia entry on the SR-71 [wikipedia.org]"Nortronics, Northrop's electronics development division, had developed an astro-inertial navigation system (ANS), which could correct navigation errors with celestial observations, for the SM-62 Snark missile, and a separate system for the ill-fated AGM-48 Skybolt missile, the latter of which was adapted for the SR-71.[50][citation needed]

          Before each takeoff, a primary alignment brought the ANS's inertial components to a high degree of accuracy. Once in flight, the ANS, which sat behind the Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO)'s position, tracked stars through a circular window of quartz glass set in the upper fuselage.[37] Its "blue light" source star tracker, which could see stars during both day and night, would continuously track a variety of stars as the aircraft's changing position brought them into view. The system's digital computer ephemeris contained data on 56 (later 61) stars.[51] The ANS could supply altitude and position to flight controls and other systems, including the Mission Data Recorder, Auto-Nav steering to preset destination points, automatic pointing and control of cameras and sensors, and optical or SLR sighting of fix points loaded into the ANS before takeoff.[52] Former pilot Richard Graham told an interviewer at the Frontiers of Flight Museum that the navigation system was good enough to limit drift to 1,000 feet off the direction of travel at Mach 3."

          I knew a guy who worked on this system. He told me about a time when they pulled one out of a plane for routine maintenance and they thought it was malfunctioning as it locked onto a star while in the hanger. After they couldn't find the fault they put a guy on a lift and turned all of the lights off in the hanger. Sure enough they found a pin hole in the roof that could only be seen close up in the dark. After they patched the hole, everything checked out fine.

        • by worip (1463581)
          The general term is GNSS - Global Navigation Satellite System.
      • Re:Well ... (Score:5, Funny)

        by NatasRevol (731260) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:28AM (#47066617) Journal

        you might as well call navigating by the stars GPS

        That'd be galactic positioning system.

      • Re:Well ... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gl4ss (559668) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:43AM (#47066803) Homepage Journal

        "Non-Satellite GPS Could Soon Be A Thing"

        that's the only fucking thing on the article that refers to it as "gps". other references are "gps like".

        if wanting to be a total troll about it, I think it remains to be seen if us military will call this sort of positioning GPS or not.

      • It like using kleenex instead of tissue, or hoovering instead of vacuum. It is a brand name.
      • If you're going to call things that aren't GPS as GPS, then you might as well call navigating by the stars GPS.

        Though that is already called Celestial Navigation [wikipedia.org], which, oddly to me, would seem to define more than it does, as one might also use such a system to find your position in space:

        Celestial navigation is the use of angular measurements (sights) between celestial bodies and the visible horizon to locate one's position on the globe, on land as well as at sea.

      • Re:Well ... (Score:4, Informative)

        by itsdapead (734413) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:16PM (#47067167)

        GPS specifically refers to the system created by the US military for tracking your position using a bunch of satellites they put up there.

        So, its a System that gives you your Position on the Globe, but not a GPS(TM). Thanks for the clarification...

        Unless its just a super-accurate way of finding out which way is North in which case it is probably a compass (not trademarked, at least in that context, AFAIK). Carefully analysing the name "quantum compass" suggests that maybe, just maybe, that's the case - although it could still form part of a System that gives your Position on the Globe.

        Maybe the key distinction is that a GPS (TM-or-otherwise) will work out your position from scratch, whereas the sort of hyper-accurate dead reckoning/inertial navigation system that TFA appears to describe would need to know where you started from...

        • by dnavid (2842431)

          Unless its just a super-accurate way of finding out which way is North in which case it is probably a compass (not trademarked, at least in that context, AFAIK). Carefully analysing the name "quantum compass" suggests that maybe, just maybe, that's the case - although it could still form part of a System that gives your Position on the Globe.

          Maybe the key distinction is that a GPS (TM-or-otherwise) will work out your position from scratch, whereas the sort of hyper-accurate dead reckoning/inertial navigation system that TFA appears to describe would need to know where you started from...

          Everything I've read suggests it is in fact a form of inertial navigation system, or more precisely a type of sensor that could be used to create one. Although its being called a "quantum compass" it appears to be a really a hyper-accurate accelerometer that can be calibrated to measure inertial effects, gravitational effects, and magnetic effects on a laser cooled Bose-condensate cluster.

      • by worip (1463581)
        Typically the different systems of GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou, etc. is referred to as GNSS (global navigation satellite systems).
  • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @10:58AM (#47066197)
    Then it's a "Global Positioning System"... GPS.
    • by arth1 (260657)

      Then it's a "Global Positioning System"... GPS.

      Note the capital letters. Those are significant. GPS is one particular global positioning system named Global Positioning System.

      Other geodesic systems aren't GPS any more than Dell is IBM because they too sell international business machines.

      • Capital letters are used to denote any acronym whether it's a proper noun or not. IMU refers to any inertial measurement unit, for instance.
        • But when expanded, it retains the capital letters. Which denotes a proper noun (name of the system). Unlike you're IMU example.

    • Then it's a "Global Positioning System"... GPS.

      There is no doubt that it is a "global positioning system". It just isn't the "Global Positioning System".

  • by Enry (630) <enryNO@SPAMwayga.net> on Thursday May 22, 2014 @10:59AM (#47066201) Journal

    Of course it is. It's Global Positioning System, not GLONASS Points South. Doesn't matter how you know where you are, as long as you know where you are with some accuracy. It's unlikely this method will be as accurate as using an actual satellite-based GPS, but probably good enough for submarines that can stay under for months at a time.

  • Not GPS (Score:5, Informative)

    by Megane (129182) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:03AM (#47066263) Homepage

    Nope. [wikipedia.org]

    Sounds like more like an inertial navigation system, [wikipedia.org] but one that uses the Earth's magnetic field instead of just being shaken around.

    • Exactly. And so, of course, you need a computer (and a UPS) to perform the dead reckoning. No biggie, since we're already postulating super-cooling in a wristwatch form factor.
    • Re:Not GPS (Score:5, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:47AM (#47066843)
      It is not clear from the article whether or not this is ultimately an inertial system, but if so it's a huge leap beyond the current ones:

      It's a great deal more accurate than the current method used by submariners, which relies on accelerometers to pick up a vessel's movement while underwater. The accuracy difference is enough that a vessel surfacing after a day could be within three feet of its intended position--rather than up to a mile off.

      It sounds potentially very exciting. (Yet once again, 99% of the slashdot comments are debating the phrasing of the clickbait headline, instead of talking about the technology itself and potential impacts. It's really disappointing.)

      • by Megane (129182)
        From the description in TFS, it sounds like it's a relative position system like inertial, but uses a different force (the Earth's magnetic field instead of inertia) to determine the relative position. GPS is completely different, generating an absolute position by measuring range to satellites (and sometimes ground stations) in known positions.
  • If the technology depends on ultracooled atoms, how's a smartphone supposed to keep them cool?
  • depends. (Score:5, Informative)

    by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:03AM (#47066277) Homepage

    Are we saying Global Positioning System, capitalized and considered a Proper Noun?
    Then, no.

    Are we saying global positionin system, a generalized term for systems that give you position data on the globe?
    Then yes.

    LORAN, EPLRS (when used as it was actually created for instead of a mesh data network), VORTAC, and probably many other systems were all generic positioning systems.

    If the earths magnetic field moves (and it does), then won't this system also be affected?

    • Re:depends. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by arth1 (260657) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:20AM (#47066529) Homepage Journal

      Are we saying global positionin system, a generalized term for systems that give you position data on the globe?
      Then yes.

      In that case, we're causing confusion, and should be using the already existing word - geodesy/geodesics.

      Using a well-known noun as if it were a generic term causes problems. People who ask what brand of xerox machine you have should be taken out and shot, and so should people who say GPS for other things than, well, GPS.

    • by DERoss (1919496)

      If the earths magnetic field moves (and it does), then won't this system also be affected?

      I was going to ask the same question. It's bad enough that the earth's poles of rotation describe circles, loops, and spirals some meters across over a year. The earth's magnetic field is even more dynamic. Responding to solar storms, the magnetic field lines can shift many meters in a few hours.

      In my lifetime, the north magnetic pole has shifted several kilometers, from an island in the Arctic Ocean to a peninsula in Canada. Furthermore, shifts by the south magnetic pole are not synchronized with shif

      • by Rei (128717)

        They talk about magnetic fields, but I think what they're proposing is actually based on fluctuations on the gravitational field. You can build a precise map of local gravitational fields and combine it with dead reckoning and/or other rough positioning mechanisms to determine a precise position. And there's no plausible way to tamper with the local gravitational field.

        If it's doing an ultraprecise measurement of the magnetic field too, that's a possibility, although I can't picture a system that works only

    • Are we saying Global Positioning System, capitalized and considered a Proper Noun? Then, no.

      Are we saying global positionin system, a generalized term for systems that give you position data on the globe? Then yes.

      That's pretty much the extent of intelligent conversation we can have on this subject. Everything else is just bitching about terms becoming generic without our personal permission or whether descriptive terms should be allowed to become proper nouns -- also without out personal permission..

  • The good thing about this technology is that it's also jamming-proof. If the U.S. and Russia ever get in a war, the first thing either side would do is knock out the other's GPS satellites with anti-satellite missiles, or conduct a cyber war. At that point, communications and positioning will be critical, making it important not to rely on a centralized network. Sure, GPS has multiple satellites, but if a cyber weapon knocks enough of them out, subs would have to go back to navigating by the stars and co

  • How is 'GPS' coming into this at all? In what way is it 'GPS-style'?

    This sounds like a new variation of how submarines's have been navigating for decades. They already have a device that measures movement without satellites using gyroscopes that works pretty well, and this sounds like it is filling the same basic function except using the background magnetic field.

    So it is a cool (no pun intended) piece of tech, but I am not understanding why it is being compared to a completely different technology lik
    • This sounds like a new variation of how submarines's have been navigating for decades.

      (Please don't let him spell it "dead" reckoning. Please don't let him spell it "dead" reckoning. Please don't let him spell it "dead" reckoning. ...)

      • Dead reckoning - navigation where you have no accurate fix - has been around for literally hundreds of years, and it is spelled 'dead reckoning' - because it's reckoning (of position) without a live fix. When I learned to navigate small boats fifty years ago, it was still pretty standard - because sun sights are awkward, and in any case using sun sights alone you can't get two position lines at the same time, so you have to do a running fix [sailtrain.co.uk] (which involves some dead reckoning). Even in coastal navigation yo

  • Light on facts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Captain_Chaos (103843) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:07AM (#47066339)

    The article is very unclear about how exactly these supercooled atomic particles tell them where they are on the globe. The impression I get is that it's just a more accurate form of inertial navigation. Or perhaps it compares the local magnetic and gravitational fields against some map of the Earth? I don't see how that would be immune to interference though, especially the magnetic part. And it would rely on an extremely accurate magnetic/gravitational map of the entire planet, which would have to be kept up to date as well as both those fields are constantly changing. Sounds very unpractical.

    I'll be very interested to see if something comes of this or if it will just turn out to be hot air and/or inaccurate reporting...

  • How does something that operates based on a Earth's weak magnetic field prevent interference? They put "quantum" in the sentence, did they mean gravitation field?

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:09AM (#47066373)

    I'm kind of surprised that Earth's magnetic field is stable enough for this to work well. Or if nothing else, wouldn't local magnetic field disturbances goof it up?

    • I assume they will need some sort of a "magnetic map" of the earth.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The best we have is the IGRF [wikipedia.org], but this would be no where near accurate enough. From NOAA [noaa.gov]:

        If you measure the magnetic field at a point on the Earth's surface, do not expect to get the value predicted by the IGRF! Quite apart from the errors discussed above, there might be fixed contributions from buildings, parked cars, etc., and the magnetization of crustal rocks will certainly add its own local, small-scale, field, typically of magnitude 200 nT, but often much larger. There are also a large variety of time-varying fields, both man-made (traffic, DC electric trains and trams, etc.) and natural (from electric currents in the ionosphere and magnetosphere), and the associated induced fields from currents induced in the conducting earth. The ionospheric and magnetospheric fields occur at time scales mostly ranging from seconds to hours; in "quiet" conditions they may be as small as 20 nT (though enhanced near the geomagnetic equator and over the polar caps), but up to 1000 nT and more during a magnetic storm. On a longer time scale (days to years), the large-scale magnetic field of the external ring current (approximately represented by the Dst index) will give perhaps 1000 nT during and after a magnetic storm.

    • by The Raven (30575) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:42PM (#47068347) Homepage
      This is not a compass. This measures the atoms passing through lines of magnetic flux. The magnetic flux lines are remarkably uniform when you are not within range of a competing magnet; I suspect that is just as true underwater. It's like measuring your distance from the center of a record by counting the track grooves you have scratched over. It does mean it's more accurate at east-west than it is at north-south.
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:12AM (#47066403) Journal

    A long time ago I saw something that (according to the caption on the photo) was an inertial guidance unit for SLBMs. It was an instrumented(?) sphere that floated in liquid helium 4 which, at that temperature, was a superfluid (which I guess is a kind of quantum effect). This was to compensate for the motion of the submarine AND the flight of the SLBM because in a nuclear war I guess you can't count on any external sensors like a star tracker working. Since this sphere was suspended in a frictionless fluid presumably any frictional losses would be zero (and I guess very precise accelerometers could do the rest).

    Now that I think of it, this might have been B.S. (how does one keep liquid helium 4 a liquid in a device, a solid fueled rocket, that you don't want to have to keep constantly maintained?). Still, "maybe" it actually worked, in which case why don't they just use this system in the sub? Are the running out of helium-4? (I think it's a rare isotope of a scarce gas).

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Sounds like a lot of trouble to create a system that's ultimately inferior to the Ring Laser Gyroscope (which was made for this very purpose).

      • by wisebabo (638845)

        You may very well be right, I mean I saw this article when I was just a kid which puts it way way back (cuban missile crisis anyone? :) There was no laser ring gyroscopes back then (I remember when they were invented), there was barely electricity! (just kidding).

        And how does one keep a superfluid liquid in a sealed container (let alone one that is in a hopefully low maintenance solid fueled rocket in a nuclear missile submarine that is then subjected to the forces of an undersea launch and boost phase)?

  • I'm skeptical (Score:4, Informative)

    by fewnorms (630720) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:21AM (#47066541)

    These particles, stored in a vacuum, react to the Earth's magnetic field.

    ... it's secure too—the technology is apparently interference-proof.

    I work for a company that deals with inertial navigation systems, specifically systems based on mechanical gyroscopes. The reason we use gyroscopes is because testing, running, and updating our tools for the last 30 years has shown us that we are inherently more precise than a magnetic measurement tool that measures the Earth's (local) magnetic field. Contrary to our tools, a magnetic measurement device is easily influenced by outside interference. Events like variations in the solar wind, such as solar flares, can easily interfere with the local magnetic field, which in turn changes your measurement of the field. Of course you can compensate for this with a lot of math, but even then those tools are still not as accurate as the tools we provide. I'd really like to know how they solved that problem, if they actually did.

    • Re:I'm skeptical (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rei (128717) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:59AM (#47066961) Homepage

      I think the emphasis has been misplaced; I think based on the process describe that they're actually measuring the *gravitational* field, which is not readily tampered with. It'd be like navigating based on a topo map, except instead of altitude it'd be using the local gravitational field below the device.

      Supercooled superconducting gravimeters can be amazingly sensitive, to the point that one in Finland reportedly detected the increase in local gravity as workmen removed snow from the roof of the building it was housed in ;) If one can make use of tiny diode lasers to supercool a tiny group of particles, it could conceivably yield a low power, portable, super-precise, tamper-immune GPS when combined with dead-reckoning and/or other rough positioning mechanisms to help determine how you're moving over the "topographical" gravity map.

      At least that's my take.

  • The writer doesn't understand what he is talking about.

  • Is It Really GPS If It Doesn't Use Satellites?

    The answer is no. No it is not GPS If it doesn't use satellites. In fact, even if it does use satellites, it's not GPS unless it uses the data received by the USA DOD GPS satellite transmitters. GPS is a pronoun, a proper name. GPS refers to, specifically and explicitly, the DOD GPS satellite system and anything not relying on the signals transmitted by those specific satellites IS NOT GPS.

    • by morgauxo (974071)

      Maybe it's not the GPS but it is a GPS.

      It's Global (it works world-wide right?)
      It's a Positioning System.

      Well.. there ya go

  • Vacuum? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Forthan Red (820542) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:49AM (#47066869)
    "These particles, stored in a vacuum, react to the Earth's magnetic field." Is it actually possible to store anything in a vacuum? If a vacuum is, by definition, a space that is devoid of matter, once you put something in it, it's not a vacuum anymore.
    • "These particles, stored in a vacuum, react to the Earth's magnetic field." Is it actually possible to store anything in a vacuum? If a vacuum is, by definition, a space that is devoid of matter, once you put something in it, it's not a vacuum anymore.

      I guess if I store my clothes in a closet, it's no longer a "closet," but a "closet with clothes in it." And really, it's gonna be filled with the same atmosphere as the rest of the house even before I unpack my pants. Probably dust, too. At least if I go on like this for long enough, my wife will put my things away just to get me to shut up.

  • Seems like it would be sensitive to magnetic interference despite the assertion.
  • Next Up! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Rob the Bold (788862) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:17PM (#47067171)

    Next up in our quest to solve the world's semantic quibbles: is it a metric system if it isn't SI?

    Discuss among yourselves.

  • Not only is it useful, but it's secure too—the technology is apparently interference-proof.

    Well, radio interference maybe.

    Here's betting that a sufficiently powerful magnet or a honking great lump of iron in the wrong place would screw it up nicely.

  • SINS = Ship's Inertial Navigation System, actually an old acronym.
  • How magnetic fields could be interference-proof ?
  • >> These particles, stored in a vacuum, react to the Earth's magnetic field.

    >> Not only is it useful, but it's secure tooâ"

    Lets just hope the bad guys never discover electromagnets.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:49PM (#47067611) Homepage

    Lame article, which points to a blog, which points to another blog, which points to the wrong place on a Russian site, which copied the article from The Daily Mail. [dailymail.co.uk] The Daily Mail, even though a tabloid, has a halfway decent article.

    I'm not going to explain inertial guidance; that's what Wikipedia is for. This is better inertial guidance. Here's a popular article which describes this new class of "gyros" and accelerometers. [army.mil] If you really want to know what's going on here, read Advances in Atomic Gyroscopes: A View from Inertial Navigation Applications [mdpi.com]

    Laser "gyros", which work by interferometery and have no moving parts, have been around for decades. The best laser gyros still have more drift, by about 2 orders of magnitude, than the best mechanical gyros. Laser gyro technology has hit the limits of what you can do with photons. The idea here is to do interferometry with coupled atoms, rather than photons. That technology has been slowly improving for a decade or so, and it looks like it's getting close to deployment for high-end applcations.

    One of the more interesting possibilities here is chip-scale gyros of moderate precision. Here's a Honewell patent from 2006 [google.com] for one.

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