Austin to be the first city in the world to test precise GPS

Precise GPS could help drivers navigate without looking away from the road (UT System)
Precise GPS could help drivers navigate without looking away from the road (UT System)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Imagine a GPS that can place you within a centimeter of where you are located on a map. This type of accuracy would not only help keep you and your family safe, but it could potentially help drivers navigate the roads better. It’s called precise vehicle positioning and it’s 100 times more accurate than your standard GPS. University of Texas professor Todd Humphreys has been working on the project for four years.

“Our goal is to do a lot better than regular GPS. Regular GPS gets you good to within ten feet, we want to get you within inches,” says Humphreys.

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UT students working on the GPS system. (KXAN Photo/Amanda Dugan)

Currently, this type of precise GPS is used mostly by surveyors—at a high price tag. That’s where Humphreys and his students come into the picture. They are working on making this type of precise GPS for a cheaper price ($50 instead of $5,000, the current going rate for centimeter-accurate GPS receivers), therefore making it more affordable for the mass market. The research is being funded by Samsung who hopes to build precise positioning into cars and smartphones.

The GPS would also provide lane level accuracy. For example, if your car started to drift out of its lane, this technology could help to pull the car back, keeping more drivers safe on the road.

“We like the car to pick up the slack if the driver is distracted or impaired. Bring that car back on the road,” says Humphreys.

The UT researchers are also working on a more intuitive way to drive, by projecting routes onto the windshield itself. Meaning drivers would no longer have to take their eyes off the road to look at their cellphones

“If we can illuminate the windshield with a path that takes you home and the path changes as it determines that there are faster or slower routes to home. That just eases the burden on the driver. It’s the yellow brick road it’s already lit up for me,” explains Humphreys.

To acquire this accuracy, 20 solar powered reference stations will be placed around Austin by the end of May. You can think of this network of 20 reference stations as smart infrastructure that make it possible to use a $50 device, instead of a $500 or $5000 device, to locate a bicyclist, a bus, or a car within its lane of travel.

Texas Department of Transportation is a partner on the project.  They’re providing space for reference stations on TxDOT rooftops around Austin. Each station weighs in at 60 pounds each, the stations were designed and built by UT alumnus, Collin Gonzalez. He says the more reference stations picking up data, the more precise the GPS will be.

“By distributing these around Austin we can pick and chose which data we want to use and that can really enable us to study how to bring the cost down find the exact sweet spot to what it takes to enable this type of technology,” explains Gonzalez.

Austin will be the test bed for this technology, which could potentially roll out to the rest of the country within the next four years.

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