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Innovations in Navigation: MuWNS-A Game-Changer for Underground Exploration

The Muometric Wireless Navigation System (MuWNS), harnessing cosmic-ray muons from outer space, has been recognized as one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2023 for its groundbreaking capability to facilitate navigation in subterranean and underwater environments.

Innovations in Navigation: MuWNS-A Game-Changer for Underground Exploration
Artistic impression of muons showering the Earth. It’s estimated that about 10,000 of these harmless particles fall per square meter per minute all around the world. Image Credit: 2015 Hiroyuki K.M. Tanaka

Conceived by Professor Hiroyuki K.M. Tanaka, hailing from Muographix at the University of Tokyo, the system's potential was initially showcased in a publication by Tanaka and his research partners in June 2023. Substantial advancements have swiftly transpired since that time.

On October 24, 2023, TIME, the prominent media company, unveiled its roster of this year’s Best Inventions. This annual compilation spotlights 200 innovations acknowledged by TIME for ingeniously addressing pressing issues.

It is quite an honor to be selected for the 2023 list’s Experimental category. I started exploring the idea of a muon positioning system back in 2020 as an alternative to GPS, which for me was unreliable. Our initial muon positioning system was wired, but within just a couple of years, we evolved it into wireless MuWNS.

Hiroyuki K.M. Tanaka, Professor, The University of Tokyo

In contrast to GPS, which can encounter obstacles like water or buildings causing signal blockage or deflection, muons possess the unique ability to penetrate all materials, including subterranean environments, remaining impervious to interference.

Moreover, while radio waves utilized by GPS are susceptible to tampering, muons remain resilient to such manipulation. In a June 2023 publication in the journal iScience, the research team detailed the successful inaugural real-world trial of wireless MuWNS. Subsequent endeavors have yielded an enhanced technique.

When I first invented MuWNS, I wanted to attain at least 1 meter accuracy. Even though we could get down to 2 meters, my goal was not achieved mainly because of the time-scale fluctuations which occur in the clocks used to calibrate the muons’ positions.

Hiroyuki K.M. Tanaka, Professor, The University of Tokyo

Tanaka added, “However, I recently proposed an entirely new technique called MuWNS-V, with which we achieved centimeter-scale accuracy and which, in principle, could even enable millimeter-scale navigation. We have now carried out our first demonstrations with MuWNS-V and the results will be published in a Nature Reviews article in November later this year.”

Continual enhancements in precision and mobility fuel Tanaka’s optimistic outlook and expansive vision for the myriad potential uses of muon research and technology.

These applications encompass capturing internal imagery of natural phenomena like volcanoes and cyclones, tracking seafloor alterations to identify tsunamis, crafting exceptionally accurate timekeeping devices, and overseeing the structural well-being of edifices.

This offers impregnable cryptographic security through wireless means, enabling autonomous vehicle navigation in indoor, underground, and underwater settings, and facilitating search and rescue missions, among others.

We have already started to develop an autonomous mobile robot called CosmoBOT that works underground. The idea is that by using a web-based system, it can be remotely operated by anyone from anywhere in the world.

Hiroyuki K.M. Tanaka, Professor, The University of Tokyo

Tanaka added, “With further developments, we hope this technology can be applied to robots in logistics warehouses, rescue operations, port constructions, mining, etc. Furthermore, in principle, with next-level millimeter-scale accuracy, it may become possible to operate articulated robots for very delicate tasks, such as remote surgery.”

I believe that muography will be an entire academic discipline, which will lead to irreplaceable technologies that will target people’s needs and help us understand the Earth in an unprecedented way,” continued Tanaka.


TIME selects novel muon navigation system as one of year’s best inventions (no date) The University of Tokyo. Available at: (Accessed: 26 October 2023).

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