‘Centimetre accurate’ GPS system to be integrated into phones

Knowing exactly where you are in the world, to the centimetre, is going to get a whole lot easier thanks to scientists who have created a new ultra-accurate GPS system.

Researchers at University of Texas created the system, which will be able to provide centimetre-accurate GPS locations on mobile phones, tablets and other mass market devices.

As well as being embedded in mobile phones, potential applications range from self-driving cars to virtual reality. The system, which allows cheap antennas to access location data, may also be used in delivery drones to help them drop-off parcels at an exact location.

The researchers also said that an ultra-accurate GPS could also be used to create virtual reality games that are tied to the user’s exact location.

“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 the project’s 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.”

There’s also a potential for the technology to be developed into future Samsung mobile phones, as the electronics giant has been working with the researchers.

The researchers are developing a “snap-on accessory that will tell smartphones, tablets and virtual reality headsets their precise position and orientation,” according to the university.

The advancement in the technology, which originally stems from ground-based radio systems created during World War II, is a step forward from current GPS abilities, which are often to a metre rather than centimetres.

The US government says the GPS signal being provided from space provides a worst case “pseudorange accuracy of 7.8 metres at a 95% confidence level”. This is the distance from a GPS satellite to a receiver, and not the accuracy of the device being tracked.

Accuracy is impacted upon everything from weather conditions to physical blockages. The US government said that “real-world data from the FAA shows that their high-quality GPS SPS receivers provide better than 3.5 metre horizontal accuracy.”

The biggest hurdle for precise accuracy at a consumer level, though, is in the production costs and size of the antennas used to broadcast and receive the GPS data.

Centimetre-level accuracy can already be achieved and is used by those working in geology, surveying and mapping.

However, until now the antennas needed to be able to be used in mobile devices, including consumer-grade technology, have been too costly to use and access.


Video and image courtesy of the Cockrell School of Engineering.

To allow centimetre-accurate measurements the researchers have created a software-defined receiver that can extract centimetre accuracies from cheap antennas.

The receiver, called GRID, was developed over a six-year period, and the researchers believe the software created will be able to reduce the cost of providing centimetre accuracy.

At present, GRID works outside the phone but they hope it will someday be able to run on a phone’s internal processor.
To enable further developments to their work, the researchers have created a startup called Radiosense.

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