Navigation for future cars – cellular signals instead of GPS?

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【Summary】When we think about the navigational systems that will be used in “future cars,” like so many things, major changes will ensue. One of the biggest might be GPS navigation giving way to cellular signals.

Original   Anthony  ·  Oct 19, 2016 11:50 PM PT
author: Anthony   

By Anthony C. LoBaido

GPS navigation is truly a modern marvel. In the 1950's and 1960's, the technology largely had military applications. Advances and technological achievements continued through the 1990's until around the year 2000 A.D., when the U.S. military decided it would no longer be scrambling its satellite signals to prevent them from being used on Earth by non-state actors. Commercial applications for GPS had finally arrived. This was great development for the economy in general and for logistics in particular. 

When we think about the navigational systems that will be used in "future cars," like so many things, major changes will ensue. One of the biggest might be GPS navigation giving way to cellular signals. But would this actually work and is it a good idea? These are salient questions that deserve detailed answers. 

It cannot be emphasized enough that California is the center of future car development. Thus it should come as no surprise that researchers at the University of California at Riverside have announced the creation of a "reliable and accurate" navigational system that will exploit, "existing environmental signals such as cellular and Wi-Fi," rather than the Global Positioning System. 

One article states:

"The technology can be used as a standalone alternative to GPS, or complement current GPS-based systems to enable highly reliable, consistent, and tamper-proof navigation. [It] could be used to develop navigation systems that meet the stringent requirements of fully autonomous vehicles, such as driverless cars and unmanned drones. 

"Led by Zak Kassas, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in UCR's Bourns College of Engineering, the team presented its research at the 2016 Institute of Navigation Global Navigation Satellite System Conference (ION GNSS+), in Portland, Ore., in September. The two studies, "Signals of Opportunity Aided Inertial Navigation" and "Performance Characterization of Positioning in LTE Systems," both won best paper presentation awards."

The space-based GPS we take for granted as Americans has been replicated, at least in part by others. Beidou in China, Europe's Galileo and Russia's GLONASS all come to mind.  

Continues the article:

"Despite advances in this technology, current GPS/INS systems will not meet the demands of future autonomous vehicles for several reasons: First, GPS signals alone are extremely weak and unusable in certain environments like deep canyons; second, GPS signals are susceptible to intentional and unintentional jamming and interference; and third, civilian GPS signals are unencrypted, unauthenticated, and specified in publicly available documents, making them ‘spoofable ‘ (meaning ‘hackable'). Current trends in autonomous vehicle navigation systems therefore rely not only on GPS/INS, but a suite of other sensor-based technologies such as cameras, lasers, and sonar.

"By adding more and more sensors, researchers are throwing 'everything but the kitchen sink' to prepare autonomous vehicle navigation systems for the inevitable scenario that GPS signals become unavailable. We took a different approach, which is to exploit signals that are already out there in the environment," Kassas said.

In essence, future cars will tap into hundreds of signals around us at any point in time, like cellular, radio, television, Wi-Fi, and other satellite signals. 

"Autonomous vehicles will inevitably result in a socio-cultural revolution. My team is addressing the challenges associated with realizing practical, cost-effective, and trustworthy autonomous vehicles. Our overarching goal is to get these vehicles to operate with no human-in-the loop for prolonged periods of time, performing missions such as search, rescue, surveillance, mapping, farming, firefighting, package delivery, and transportation," Kassas added. 

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