Researchers develop GPS technology accurate to the centimeter

Caleb Wong

Smartphones may soon be able to precisely track users’ position and orientation to the centimeter using GPS technology, according to researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering. 

Engineering assistant professor Todd Humphreys and engineering professor Robert W. Heath and their research team developed the technology, which has a variety of applications for cell phones, virtual reality and transportation. 

Centimeter-precise GPS technology could virtually connect people across the world in a real-time, 3-D environment, according to Humphreys. 

“Imagine games where, rather than sit in front of a monitor and play, you are in your backyard actually running around with other players,” Humphreys said in a statement. “To be able to do this type of outdoor, multiplayer virtual reality game, you need highly accurate position and orientation that is tied to a global reference frame.”

Ken Pesyna, electrical and computer engineering graduate student and researcher, said the research team has dramatically reduced the cost and price of GPS antennae, so they can fit on a smartphone or on top of a car. 

“Our real breakthrough is that you don’t need expensive antennae,” Pesyna said. “They can be made smaller and cheaper.” 

Pesyna said precise GPS technology could help autonomous cars drive passengers safely to their destination. 

“Eventually, in the future, we won’t be driving our cars,” Pesyna said. “Our cars will be driving us, and, to do that safely, the cars will have to know where they are relative to other cars very accurately down to a couple centimeters.”

Pesyna said this GPS technology could prevent car theft and drunken driving before fully autonomous driving comes to market. 

“We’ve done research in this area for security to be able to detect if it’s you driving your car, or if it’s someone else with different driving habits,” Pesyna said. “We can ultimately use it to detect drunk driving behaviors. There might be obvious signs in how you drive that can be noticed in the centimeter accurate trajectories.”

Research transportation engineer Jennifer Duthie said researchers from UT’s Center for Transportation Research are hoping to pilot a project this summer to gather data from the movement of bicycles and motor vehicles using GPS. 

“We’re hoping to do a pilot this summer where we put [the technology] on a few bicycles and just see it how we can use this data for better bicycle planning,” Duthie said. “You can extract certain driver characteristics, look how people make turns.”