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New system gives in-city GPS navigation a big boost

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February 12, 2013

UC3M's combined GPS unit and inertial measurement unit

UC3M's combined GPS unit and inertial measurement unit

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Many of us use our vehicle navigation systems on a daily basis, and as self-driving cars come into common use – assuming they do – such systems will become even more important. Unfortunately, however, the GPS technology that’s integral to vehicle navigation can be thwarted by obstacles such as tall buildings. A team of researchers at Spain’s Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) are attempting to address that problem, with a system that is said to drastically boost GPS accuracy in city driving.

According to the researchers, commercial GPS systems have a margin of error of about 15 meters (49 feet) when in an open field, where they have a clear line of sight to the satellites that they use to triangulate their location. In an urban setting, however, where signals can get bounced off high-rises and other obstacles, that figure goes up to about 50 meters (164 feet).

When a system can’t “see” the sky at all, such as when the vehicle is going through a tunnel, the GPS stops working altogether. Some systems have a feature that takes over at such points, where the vehicle’s location is estimated on a map based on its last known position and heading, although these are essentially just educated guesses.

The UC3M team took an existing GPS unit, and combined it with a computer and an inertial measurement unit – that unit contains three accelerometers and three gyroscopes, which keep track of the speed and orientation of the vehicle at all times. Custom software on the computer combines data from the GPS and the inertial measurement unit, to consistently and accurately track the location of the vehicle to within one to two meters (3.3 to 6.6 feet) in urban settings.

UC3M's IVVI (Intelligent Vehicle based on Visual Information)
UC3M's IVVI (Intelligent Vehicle based on Visual Information)

According to the researchers, the hardware used in the system is inexpensive, and can be installed in any vehicle. The prototype is currently being used in the university’s IVVI (Intelligent Vehicle based on Visual Information), which is also serving as a testbed for technologies such as lane departure warning and pedestrian detection.

The team now hopes to bring the cost of these technologies down further, by taking advantage of the sensors and processing power already present in drivers’ smartphones.

Source: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
5 Comments

Thanks Ben... Is this News, or is it news that the system is on the market...

Adding an IMU to GPS is the most basic of steps to improving resolution...

Surely this has been done before at a retail level, as it surely has been done in every high accuracy vehicle navigation system....

Data Fusion..

MD
12th February, 2013 @ 05:36 pm PST

It makes more sense for the system to monitor wheel revolutions on each side of an undriven axle and computing the speed and direction at high frequency until the signal is regained. (This system would then be reserved as a second best for 4X4 vehicles.)

GPS navigation (as a generic term i.e. not necessary the American system) would be vastly improved if users did not have to update their maps, but to automatically download them on a cellular basis (and adjoining cells) as they proceed from cell to cell (something like mobile 'phones switch from mast to mast).

These maps should reflect all known traffic conditions so that the system can recalculate in order to miss any obstructions, such as road accidents. If all road works, carnival processions and the like were automatically added to the map on a dynamic basis, then travel would be much less fraught. Perhaps most importantly, if the authorities could automatically slow traffic down on the approach to stationary traffic, such as at a road accident, then we would avoid tragic situations where a lorry ploughs into a line of traffic because the film the driver was illegally watching had reached an exciting part.

It goes without saying that coupled to a fly-by-wire throttle contro such a system could ensure that no one need ever fear a speed camera and all that stealth tax nonsense.

We have the technical ability to do this, all it really takes is the political will and for someone to put a dummy in Jeremy Clarkson's mouth, if they can find one big enough, of course.

Mel Tisdale
13th February, 2013 @ 05:57 am PST

Sadly the inaccuracy in GPS systems is mandated by government to assist in national defense. A get around solution has always been to use Russian satellites to triangulate a location. However there are GPS systems that do demonstrate serious accuracy without modification. I do not know who is allowed to purchase such units. The basic idea was to prevent a pin point delivery of an explosive down something like an elevator shaft or through a specific office window. The bad part is that bringing a boat into a dark inlet at night that is narrow with strong currents means that most GPS units put a boat in danger. But with an accurate system you could even survey your land or even get the exact height of a roof within a small fraction of an inch.

Jim Sadler
13th February, 2013 @ 12:10 pm PST

Test this in London, NYC, Paris, LA CA, Mex City Mex, Rome for working out bugs.

Stephen N Russell
13th February, 2013 @ 09:09 pm PST

I think this system is fine, but there is already a really good system produced by Locata corp that mimic's satellites to get very accurate tracking in places that cannot see the sky (like mine's, tunnels, cities, etc). It is so good the US Airforce is using a custom version of it for weapons testing ranges instead of GPS. It is also being used by numerous mines and is being tested currently in Sydney, Australia.

Oztechi
13th February, 2013 @ 10:19 pm PST
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