The GPS technology that allows cell phones and other devices to pinpoint their location to within a few meters has made possible new services ranging from location-aware social networks to self-driving cars. 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.
Locata’s technology involves installing a network of “LocataLites”–devices about the size of a hardback book–in several known locations across an area. These devices function like grounded versions of GPS satellites, sending out signals that receivers use to get a location fix. LocataLites transmit signals using the same frequency as Wi-Fi, and they can each cover several kilometers. “We introduce a local constellation that works like the one in space,” says Nunzio Gambale, one of Locata’s two cofounders. “It’s just much cheaper and more accurate.”
The technology will be used to track aircraft 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 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, says Gambale.