Researchers at the Delft University of Technology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and VSLGlobal navigation satellite systems (GNSS) have created a robust and highly accurate positioning system called SuperGPS.
Current positioning systems in use – such as the GPS in the United States and Galileo in Europe – rely on satellites, leaving them open to limitations and vulnerabilities. Their radio signals are weak when received on Earth, and if the radio signals are reflected or blocked by buildings accurate positioning is no longer possible.
SuperGPS, on the other hand, combines wireless and optical connections to pinpoint locations within centimeters. The SuperGPS project aims to provide an alternative positioning system, for adverse conditions, such as a GPS outage, or in urban environments.
“We realized that with a few cutting-edge innovations, the telecommunication network could be transformed into a very accurate alternative positioning system that is independent of GPS,” said Jeroen Koelemeij of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. “We have succeeded and have successfully developed a system that can provide connectivity just like existing mobile, and Wi-Fi networks do, as well as accurate positioning and time distribution like GPS.”
Some of these innovations include connecting the mobile network through an existing fiber optic network to a highly accurate atomic clock, so that it can broadcast perfectly timed messages for positioning. Also, the system employs radio signals with a bandwidth much larger than in common usage.
“We had already been investigating techniques to distribute the national time produced by our atomic clocks to users elsewhere through the telecommunication network,” said Erik Dierikx of VSL. “With these techniques, we can turn the network into a nationwide distributed atomic clock – with many new applications such as very accurate positioning through mobile networks.”
SuperGPS’ working prototype achieved an accuracy of 10 centimeters. This new technology could be important for the implementation of a range of location-based applications, such as automated vehicles, quantum communication, and next-generation mobile communication systems.