​New ultra-precise GPS system could revolutionize geolocation on mobile devices

Кугеукы/Rick Wilking
Navigation has become easier in recent years, thanks to advances in GPS and smartphones. But a new centimeter-accurate technology could soon transform the world of geolocation, impacting everything from virtual reality games to drone delivery.

The GPS-based positioning system, developed by researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas-Austin, could provide far more accurate global positioning and orientation on mobile devices.

This could allow virtual reality (VR) gamers to interact in a whole new way, by using their headsets outdoors.

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When coupled with a smartphone camera, the centimeter-accurate GPS could be used to build a globally referenced 3D map of one's surroundings, expanding the radius of a VR game. VR does not currently use GPS, which limits its use to indoors and typically a two- to three-foot radius.

“Imagine games where, rather than sit in front of a monitor and play, you are in your backyard actually running around with other players,”said Todd Humphreys, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics and the lead researcher.

“To be able to do this type of outdoor, multiplayer virtual reality game, you need highly accurate position and orientation that is tied to a global reference frame.”

But it also has more significant capabilities, including better vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology which could potentially save lives.

“If your car knows in real time the precise position and velocity of an approaching car that is blocked from view by other traffic, your car can plan ahead to avoid a collision,” Humphreys said.

The system could also affect consumers who order products online, by allowing drones to deliver packages to a specific spot on a customer's porch.

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The GPS technology's extreme accuracy is due to a low-cost system which reduces location errors from the size of a large car to the size of a penny – resulting in data that is 100 times more precise. The system was developed by Humphreys and his team at the university's Radionavigation Lab.

Though centimeter-accurate GPS systems are already used in the areas of geology, surveying, and mapping, the high cost of survey-grade antennas has previously limited the technology from expanding to mobile devices. Humphreys and his team tackled that problem head-on, developing a software-defined GPS receiver which can work from the standard antennas found in mobile devices.

Humphreys' research was funded by Samsung, which plans to continue sponsoring related projects.