If you had to make a list of incredible technologies that people tend to take for granted, the GPS would undoubtedly be right at the top. GPS became an important part of our daily lives over the last decade when consumer-level devices were able to provide us with turn-by-turn directions between any two points, completely eliminating the need for something like an atlas — and causing a significant amount of disruption at the same time.
Then, GPS devices were embedded inside every “smartphone” sold across the world — further advancing just what the tech was capable of and removing the need for standalone GPS devices practically overnight. Now, as the technology itself continues to advance, it seems as if global positioning systems are breaking new ground all over again. A team of researchers based out of the University of California say that they’ve discovered a newer, more efficient way to process data from GPS satellites — allowing them to enhance the overall accuracy of readings from a few meters (where they are now) to a few CENTIMETERS.
The State of GPS Today
The implications of this new computational method go far beyond consumer-level applications. This technique won’t necessarily provide us with more accurate GPS-generated directions, as we’ve really already pushed that particular benefit as far as it will go. Instead, this will be a massive advantage to industries in which precision is essential — namely, in terms of technology such as aviation, naval aviation, self-driving cars and others.
Consider the example of the self-driving car. It’s one thing for an autonomous vehicle to know that it’s supposed to go north for 500 feet, then take a left at the next major intersection. It’s another thing for it to try to do this while in traffic, mere inches from other cars and obstacles at any given point. With GPS tracking that is accurate to just a few centimeters, the chances of that same self-driving car getting from “point A” to “point B” without getting into an accident are much, much greater.
This will also be a huge boon in terms of asset tracking and protection, something that is particularly necessary as more and more factories and warehouse environments across the country turn to automation in an effort to increase efficiency and cut costs. GPS tracking tags have long been used to identify everything from merchandise on store shelves to equipment in a warehouse. Now, an employee will be able to see EXACTLY where something is at any given time, all with the right GPS tag and an app on their smartphone or other mobile device.
The experts at Phys.org also indicate that this advancement will generate a significant boon to the wearable technology industry. Centimeter-level accurate location data being shared between a mobile phone and a wearable device such as a smart watch will not only increase what these two devices are able to accomplish when tethered together, but it will do it WITHOUT increasing the demand for power at the same time.
Let Math Be Your Shining Light
None of this would be possible without the team of researchers led by professor Jay Farrell. The approach itself is advanced, but it’s actually based on some fairly straightforward math. A series of common equations are used to determine a GPS receiver’s position, which is then compared against data being received by the connected satellite. Making just a few basic adjustments to those equations helps make it easier to determine exactly where the GPS receiver is, improving accuracy as a result.
In just a few short years, GPS accuracy has gone from approximately 10 meters to 2 meters and now to just a few centimeters. As global positioning system technology continues to advance at the breakneck pace it currently enjoys, it’s exciting to think about just what is in store for us tomorrow, five years from now and beyond.