New GPS Technology Provides Delivery Drones Pinpoint Accuracy

Despite what appears to be a number of potential stumbling blocks, Amazon and other companies seem determined to take advantage of drone technology for rapid parcel delivery. Researchers in Austin, Texas have just done them a big favour by developing a low-cost global positioning system (GPS) that can reduce localization errors over 100 fold – from the size of a Volkswagen to the size of a nickel.

 Amazon Prime Air: delivery drones are among several futuristic technologies that will benefit from the newly developed GPS.Amazon Prime Air: delivery drones are among several futuristic technologies that will benefit from the newly developed GPS.

 While GPS of this centimeter-scale accuracy is regularly deployed in sectors like mapping or geology, the antennae required have always been too expensive and unwieldy to incorporate into a mobile device. The breakthrough by the Texas team lead by Todd Humphreys, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, was not in developing a new antenna, but rather in the production of a new receiver and accompanying software that can extract far more accurate readings from the antennae already in use. This should make integration of the new technology rapid and facile.

Delivery drones are just one instance in which this technology will be of use. Clearly, dropping off a package on someone’s front porch with an error range the size of a small car is not an ideal situation. You might arrive home to find your prized new possession having been dropped in the koi pond adjacent to your front steps, for example. With the new system in place, the drone could not only locate the porch, but could place the package in a specific location on that porch – perhaps that best hidden from passersby.

Another potential application is in virtual reality headsets. While they are currently only useable indoors and in a small radius due to a lack of GPS and related safety concerns, future iterations could allow you to be engaged in a virutal game while actually running around outside interacting with the environment and other players. Further into the future, self-driving automobiles will also benefit from more specific knowledge of their location and that of other vehicles.

The Oculus Rift: virtual reality games equipped with GPS will be much more exciting and interactive. Image by Sebastian Stabinger.The Oculus Rift: virtual reality games equipped with GPS will be much more exciting and interactive. Image by Sebastian Stabinger.

The head researcher and students involved in this discovery have already founded a company, Radiosense, and are working with Samsung to commercialize their product. With such an established backer, it is likely we will all be able to take advantage of this novel technology sooner rather than later.