Why the Future of Navigation Could Be Local
Here in America and around the world, GPS is an integrated part of our personal and professional lives. But as good as it is, it has limitations.
It wasn’t created to operate in dense foliage, deep open-cut mines, or even urban “canyons” created by multiple skyscrapers. It is also vulnerable to “jamming” devices that can take out the signal and deny service.
But what if the “holes” in GPS could be plugged? Locata, a privately owned Australian company, has invented a technology, called LocataTech, that is designed to do just that by offering a backup when GPS is unavailable. Unlike GPS, which uses satellites in orbit, LocataTech uses terrestrial transmitters on the ground.
Because it is ground-based, more powerful signals can be used, the company says, and the technology works both indoors and outdoors. Professionals can use GPS satellite positioning, Locata’s terrestrial-based positioning, or a combination of the two.
The technology is already being used in the Leica Jigsaw Positioning System (Jps) for high precision positioning in high wall and deep open pit mines. In December 2012, the Newmont Boddington Gold Mine began using Locata’s ground-based solution to improve positioning accuracy, machine automation efficiency and productivity in its deep pit mines. Additionally, the U.S. Air Force has signed a sole-source, multi-year contract to install Locata’s positioning system at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The USAF will use the new technology to provide accurate “reference truth” positioning across a 2,500 square mile area of the missile range when GPS is being completely jammed.
“Our technology doesn’t rely on GPS to provide reliable and accurate positioning when GPS is jammed,” said Paul Benshoof, Locata’s global business development manager, who formed and directed the GPS Test Center of Expertise, a consortium of U.S. test agencies dedicated to GPS test and evaluation, “and jammers can’t take out both GPS and us because we are broadcasting at different frequencies.”
Locata’s ground-based transmitters generate a GPS-like signal, providing full positioning coverage if deployed around the rim of a mine, for example. The transmitters can be permanently positioned onsite or moved at will, enabling the network to be relocated.
In addition to its use in mines and the U.S. military, Locata has also conducted tests over the Sydney Harbour in Australia, proving that the technology provides accurate positioning, navigation and timing services over bodies of water, another limitation of GPS.
Trials are also underway to explore the potential of the technology in urban environments, which have multiple homeland security applications.
“First responders in an urban environment or a major city that uses GPS for its precise timing now have a backup to ensure police, firemen and ambulances can get to the right address,” said Benshoof. The technology can also help first responders navigate indoors.
Locata is working on getting the technology into the hands of consumers. Currently, the receiver is about 5x5x1 inches, which is small—but not small enough for cell phones or other consumer electronics, Benshoof said. A smaller receiver is in the works.
According to Benshoof, one of the most exciting aspects of the Locata technology is its ability to level the global playing field when it comes to positioning.
“There are other satellite-based positioning systems out there besides GPS,” he said, referring to Europe’s Galileo system, China’s Beidou system and Russia’s GLONASS system. “But because they are satellite-based, not only are you relying on satellite signals, which may or may not be available, but they are also cripplingly expensive to deploy and maintain. This forces other countries to depend on the superpowers for what is a national requirement with no backup. Now, they can have an independent positioning and timing solution that they can control from their own country.”
The plan is for communities, organizations and companies also to be able to deploy their own accurate positioning system—what Locata calls "Your Own GPS."
Though the Locata technology utilizes a signal independent of GPS, Benshoof is quick to point out that it meshes very well with GPS and was not designed as a replacement.
“We think the future is the marriage of GPS with its terrestrial equivalent,” he said. “When satellites are not available or when indoors, GPS won’t work by itself. You need something else. Marrying GPS with terrestrial systems that do the same thing is what we believe is the future of navigation.”