Precise positioning achieved in a smartphone GPS

Thursday, 06 September, 2018

Precise positioning achieved in a smartphone GPS

Have you ever noticed that the GPS location on your smartphone isn’t all that smart? New research conducted at the University of Otago is about to change that.

By combining signals from four different global navigation satellite systems (GNSSs), Otago’s Dr Robert Odolinski, in collaboration with Curtin University’s Professor Peter Teunissen, has demonstrated that it is possible to achieve centimetre-level precise positioning on a smartphone — a breakthrough that has been published in the Journal of Geodesy.

“It’s all down to the mathematics we applied to make the most of the relatively low-cost technology smartphones use to receive GNSS signals, combining data from American, Chinese, Japanese and European GNSS,” Dr Odolinski explained.

To understand the new technology, Dr Odolinski said a look back at the historical scientific context is needed. “For decades,” he said, “construction, engineering, cadastral surveying and earthquake monitoring have relied on high-cost, ‘dual-frequency’ GPS positioning to obtain centimetre-level location information.

“The challenge is that GPS signals, travelling from Earth-orbiting satellites to receivers on the ground, are disrupted along the way, and this generates errors and limits precision. The traditional solution is to combine GPS signals sent at two different frequencies to improve the positions, but the antennas and receivers required have been expensive — far beyond the reach of many who would benefit from the technology.”

The new approach uses only one of two frequencies but collects data from more satellites, for what is called a ‘multi-constellation’ GNSS solution. The extra data is used to improve the positions without adding cost.

Precise centimetre-level positioning on a smartphone during 24 hours in Dunedin, New Zealand. Blue dots show repeatability of one epoch data in comparison to precise benchmark coordinates. The repeatability is more or less the size of a one-dollar New Zealand coin (diameter of 2.3 cm) in all three dimensions. Image credit: University of Otago.

What Dr Odolinski and Prof Teunissen have now shown is that this approach can work in smartphones, producing competitive results compared to dual-frequency GPS solutions. Dr Odolinski believes that countries and industries of all sizes can benefit from using smartphones as GNSS receivers and is confident commercial application and development will lead on from this research.

“This significant reduction in costs when using smartphones can increase the number of receivers that can be deployed, which will revolutionise a range of disciplines requiring centimetre-level positioning, including precise car navigation, surveying and geophysics (deformation monitoring), to name a few,” Dr Odolinski said.

Top image caption: Dr Robert Odolinski configuring a smartphone to collect multi-GNSS data. Image credit: University of Otago.

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