Smartphones to Revolutionize GPS Technology

Dennis Faas's picture

Spanish researchers say they've found a way to drastically improve the accuracy of GPS-based satellite navigation. They believe they can track a vehicle's location to the nearest six-and-a-half-feet, down from a current radius of nearly fifty feet.

The improvements might not only allow drivers to get more accurate directions, but could even increase the viability of cars that can drive themselves.

The research was carried out by two departments at the Carlos III University in Madrid: the Applied Artificial Intelligence Group and the Systems Intelligence Laboratory.

Researchers Remove GPS Obstacles

Their aim was to tackle the problems that occur when cars drive through heavily built-up areas, forests, or even tunnels, all of which cause problems for Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

That's because the signals the devices send to satellites are either blocked or diverted as they bounce off surfaces.

In turn, that changes the time it takes the signal to travel between the satellite and the car, which means the system can't work out the distance in an accurate way.

Smartphone Gadgets Improve Accuracy

The Spanish system uses three accelerometers and three gyroscopes. An accelerometer measures a device's movement back-and-forth and side-to-side, while a gyroscope measures its rotation (or tilt).

In the past these devices have been used mainly in aircraft. However, they can now be made so small that they fit into smartphones, as seen in games where you have to tilt or turn the screen.

The idea is that the car's navigation system can constantly take the location provided by the GPS signal, check the precise movement recorded by the accelerometers and gyrometers, and then check to see if this matches the location of the GPS device.

If the two movements don't match up, the system will know the GPS signal has been disrupted and can make necessary adjustments.

GPS Readings 90% More Accurate

Testing has shown that the improved system could lead to results that are 90 per cent more accurate than current readings. Of course, the accuracy of such readings depends on how much the GPS signal has been disrupted. (Source:

The researchers say they now want to take these ideas and apply them to a smartphone so that drivers won't need special equipment.

That would mean working with fewer accelerometers and gyrometers, but making use of other components found in smartphones, including WiFi, magnet-based compasses, and even cameras. (Source:

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