New centimeter-accurate GPS system could transform virtual reality and mobile devices

May 5, 2015

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a centimeter-accurate GPS-based positioning system that could revolutionize geolocation on virtual reality headsets, cellphones and other technologies, making global positioning and orientation far more precise than what is currently available on a mobile device.

The researchers' new system could allow to deliver packages to a specific spot on a consumer's back porch, enable collision avoidance technologies on cars and allow (VR) headsets to be used outdoors. The researchers' new centimeter-accurate GPS coupled with a smartphone camera could be used to quickly build a globally referenced 3-D map of one's surroundings that would greatly expand the radius of a VR game. Currently, VR does not use GPS, which limits its use to indoors and usually 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 lead researcher. "To be able to do this type of outdoor, multiplayer , you need highly accurate position and orientation that is tied to a global reference frame."

Humphreys and his team in the Radionavigation Lab have built a low-cost system that reduces location errors from the size of a large car to the size of a nickel—a more than 100 times increase in accuracy. Humphreys collaborated with Professor Robert W. Heath from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and graduate students on the new technology, which they describe in a recent issue of GPS World.

Centimeter-accurate positioning systems are already used in geology, surveying and mapping, but the survey-grade antennas these systems employ are too large and costly for use in . The breakthrough by Humphreys and his team is a powerful and sensitive software-defined GPS receiver that can extract centimeter accuracies from the inexpensive antennas found in mobile devices—such precise measurements were not previously possible. The researchers anticipate that their software's ability to leverage low-cost antennas will reduce the overall cost of centimeter accuracy, making it economically feasible for mobile devices.

Humphreys and his team have spent six years building a specialized receiver, called GRID, to extract so-called carrier phase measurements from low-cost antennas. GRID currently operates outside the phone, but it will eventually run on the phone's internal processor.

To further develop this technology, Humphreys and his students recently co-founded a startup, called Radiosense. Humphreys and his team are working with Samsung to develop a snap-on accessory that will tell smartphones, tablets and virtual reality headsets their precise position and orientation.

The researchers designed their system to deliver precise position and orientation information—how one's head rotates or tilts—to less than one degree of measurement accuracy. This level of accuracy could enhance VR environments that are based on real-world settings, as well as improve other applications, including visualization and 3-D mapping.

Additionally, the researchers believe their technology could make a significant difference in people's daily lives, including transportation, where centimeter-accurate GPS could lead to better vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology.

"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.

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11 comments

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DistortedSignature
5 / 5 (2) May 05, 2015
For bigger devices this seems neat, but for smartphones and their ilk, we'd need to have better battery capacity to handle all these juicy features that in turn sap up all the juice from the device they're plugged into.
Whydening Gyre
3 / 5 (3) May 05, 2015
What I keep wondering is... why do we need such accuracy? It just means the agencies that control it will seek to extend that control over the users...
Nik_2213
not rated yet May 05, 2015
Well, it might help me find a smart-phone that's gone down between cushions, or map a minor archaeological site.

I shudder to think what a couple of drones playing 'follow the leader' might achieve...
Manitou
not rated yet May 06, 2015
With 1cm accuracy, we can know elevation well enough for indoor navigation between floors.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) May 06, 2015
"Imagine games where, rather than sit in front of a monitor and play, you are in your backyard actually running around with other players,"

Kids can do that already. It's called "playing outside" (sounds crazy, I know).

But if you really want to have technology involved there's already a (global!) game called "Ingress".

With 1cm accuracy, we can know elevation well enough for indoor navigation between floors.

GPS doesn't work indoors (or not reliably at any rate).

What I keep wondering is... why do we need such accuracy?

If you want autonomous vehicle traffic (which we're eventually bound to have) then I would prefer if it were cm accurate rather than meter accurate. A meter off can mean the difference between you standing at the curb or that autonomous truck running you over.
ShotmanMaslo
not rated yet May 06, 2015
I doubt centimeter accuracy is good enough for VR.
Noumenon
5 / 5 (1) May 06, 2015
Imagine games where, rather than sit in front of a monitor and play, you are in your backyard actually running around ..


Kids can do that already. It's called "playing outside" (sounds crazy, I know).

Well ya, but it will be in 3D,...... oh wait,... never mind.

What I keep wondering is... why do we need such accuracy? It just means the agencies that control it will seek to extend that control over the users...

Speeding tickets will be produced and sent automatically,....

If you want autonomous vehicle traffic (which we're eventually bound to have) ....

We already have that, ... it's called a 'train'.

The 'self driving car' idea originally came from Homer Simpson. It will never happen en masse; 1) too much liability involved, 2) people would rather feel in control of their driving,... otherwise buses would be more ubiquitous. There not.

I doubt centimeter accuracy is good enough for VR.


Why? Porn-VR?
antigoracle
3 / 5 (2) May 06, 2015
Now they'll know, down to the centimeter, where that GPS took you off the cliff.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet May 07, 2015
I doubt centimeter accuracy is good enough for VR.

It is if ya don't mind fuzzy...
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet May 07, 2015
It is if ya don't mind fuzzy...

But, if it's NANOmetre accurate...
Wait - don't we already have that...?
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) May 08, 2015
The actual trouble with centimeter-accurate GPS is the long integration time necessary to get the result.

One measurement of the GPS signals doesn't give you anywhere near an accurate result because there's random delays and interference along the way and in the device itself. The devices take multiple measurements over time and calculate the average to arrive at the result. They home in on their location over time.

Getting to centimeter accuracy needs the GPS device to sit still for minutes or hours. Improvements on the hardware may be possible, but still it's going to take time to accumulate enough of the signal and it's not going to be fast enough tor VR tracking that needs to update position over 60 times a second or you will start to feel ill.

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