GPS Tracking Technology Moves to Centimeters – How Small Can You Go?

Are you amazed by how efficiently GPS tracking systems on your smartphone or in your car can find locations? Get ready to become even more stunned. The latest technology allows GPS devices to identify locations within mere centimeters.

What’s behind this improved efficiency?

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This capability is already in use for geology, surveying and mapping applications. However, the cost and size of the survey-grade antennas required prevented the technology from being integrated in mobile devices. A recent breakthrough by researchers at the University of Texas appears to be a solution to the problem.

Todd Humphries is an assistant professor in the UT Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. He headed up a team in the Radionavigation Lab to develop a low-cost system that provides centimeter accuracy using the inexpensive antennas of mobile devices.

The new system incorporates a receiver driven by powerful and sensitive software that reduces errors from the size of a car to the size of a penny, an improvement of more than 100 times. The team hopes that the reduced costs of their system will make centimeter-accurate technology available for mobile devices.

Applications of centimeter-accurate GPS technology

Other applications also stand to benefit from the technology. It could be used for collision avoidance systems in cars and make it possible for virtual reality (VR) headsets to move outdoors. VR use is currently limited to a two- to three-foot radius indoors.

Researchers envision pairing the system with a smartphone camera to build a 3-D map of a user’s immediate surroundings to enhance VR gameplay. Humphries spoke of the ability to play an interactive game in a user’s backyard rather than a passive game in front of a monitor.

Members of the UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering have also speculated that the technology could enable unmanned aerial vehicles to provide package delivery directly to a customer’s porch. Amazon has already been at work on a drone package delivery system. This past March they received FAA approval for test flights, and they followed that up in April with an application for a patent.

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