Small ground-based transmitters that mimic GPS satellites help receivers find their position with high accuracy. A new location technology accurate to a few centimeters will refine those services and unlock another wave of novel ideas, claims Australian company Locata. The company’s technology can work alongside GPS to provide superaccurate positioning or fill in the gaps in places where GPS signals are blocked.
The technology is already being used to track munitions on the U.S. Air Force’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where an upgraded system will soon cover an area of 6,474 square kilometers. The Boddington gold mine in Western Australia is using Locata’s technology to position digging and drilling equipment with high accuracy. It is a convenient alternative to manually surveying the insides of the deep opencast mine, the walls of which block GPS signals. The same effect often weakens or blocks GPS signals in urban environments. Locata’s technology is also attractive for any city wanting to offer its own “location hotspot” to fix that, says Gambale.
Next month, Locata will release information that will allow other companies to manufacture LocataLites and receivers, a move intended to see the technology added to devices that already use GPS signals. “It’s like the early days of GPS,” says Gambale. “The real explosion will happen when there are chip-scale receivers that can fit into your pocket.”
Ultimately, this could mean smart phones that know their location with remarkable accuracy, enabling apps such as augmented reality to be much more powerful. Before that, however, construction sites, warehouses, and factories will likely benefit. Tracking goods and machines with high accuracy can enable greater use of robotics and automation.
Locata’s satellite mimics are built with timing chips much less accurate than an atomic clock. That’s possible because they only keep in sync with one another, not to an external standard, says Gambale. LocataLites do this by listening to each other’s signals. Each LocataLite adjusts the timing of its outgoing signal based on the timing of the signals it picks up from other LocataLites, creating a feedback loop that ensures all the signals are in sync. “All the clocks drift together,” says Gambale, and all the signals are synchronized to within two nanoseconds.