Mobile Technology

BAE takes on GPS with NAVSOP radio positioning system

BAE takes on GPS with NAVSOP r...
BAE Systems claims NAVSOP would complement, rather than challenge or replace, GPS technology (Photo: travellight/Shutterstock)
BAE Systems claims NAVSOP would complement, rather than challenge or replace, GPS technology (Photo: travellight/Shutterstock)
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BAE Systems claims NAVSOP would complement, rather than challenge or replace, GPS technology (Photo: travellight/Shutterstock)
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BAE Systems claims NAVSOP would complement, rather than challenge or replace, GPS technology (Photo: travellight/Shutterstock)

By listening to the complexity of radio signals that pervades the human environment, BAE Systems thinks its new positioning system is as accurate as, but more secure than, GPS. Because its Navigation via Signals of Opportunity (NAVSOP) system uses a wide range of signals such as Wi-Fi signals and radio and TV broadcasts, it's resistant to the jamming or spoofing of individual signals to which GPS is vulnerable.

The use of radio, especially medium wave, means that NAVSOP can be used where GPS cannot, inside large buildings specifically. Perhaps more surprisingly, BAE claims NAVSOP will also work in the Earth's most remote locations, including the Arctic, by picking up signals from satellites in low Earth orbit.

However, its main advantage, according to BAE, is that all the infrastructure required to make use of it already exists. No additional transmitters are necessary. NAVSOP learns as it goes, so even unidentified radio signals can be added to its database. BAE claims that even the signals of GPS jammers could be used for navigational purposes.

"Let's be clear - for Navsop to start learning, you have to have a GPS signal, to know where you are on the face of the Earth," BAE's Dr. Ramsey Faragher told the BBC while demonstrating a large NAVSOP system in the back of a car. This isn't necessarily a problem, though, as BAE envisages NAVSOP technology would be built into navigation devices along with GPS in order to complement or replace it in the event of satellite signals becoming unreliable or unavailable.

Faragher argues that NAVSOP's potential as a backup to GPS is enormous. "The European Commission determined that €800 billion (US$1 trillion) of the European economy is dependent on either precision navigation or precision timing from GPS," he told the BBC. "The aviation industry, the shipping industry, agriculture, telecommunications, all need GPS to function."

By the time its commercially available, NAVSOP equipment should shrink to a size comparable to GPS receiver, and Faragher suggests the technology may be of interest to countries developing other satellite navigational systems such as China (Beidou) and Russia (Glonass).

Unsurprisingly, BAE has military applications in mind, "from aiding soldiers operating in remote or dense urban areas to providing improved security for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, which could face attempts to disrupt their guidance systems." Civilian applications are also envisaged, including the possibility that NAVSOP could help fire departments navigate smoke-filled buildings.

A commercial launch date has not yet been tabled.

Sources: BAE Systems, BBC

8 comments
mooseman
Sounds great! It's really good to see a company taking advantage of what already exists and then designing a solution around that. This would definitely be a useful complement to GPS.
MrGadget
This sounds like a good system to supplement a GPS. On its own, it seems too unreliable. A GPS signal has a timestamp to allow easy triangulation; a random radio signal do not.
Also, what happens when owners of radio signals (e.g. cellphone towers, TV stations) demand payments from them?
Marc 1
MrGadget,
How could they demand payment? The device uses these fixed known signals to triangulate off. With enough signals you don't need timesamps to provide a very accurate position.
Slowburn
You don't actually need a GPS receiver just a compass and a known starting point. A high resolution digital map and a pointer to say I am here.
PeetEngineer
My iphone can already locate itself based on cell tower triangulation without GPS, and Gizmags linked old article on the DARPA Phantomworks system sounds more or less the same as what's being described here. http://www.gizmag.com/go/7140/
As for being charged for use of a signal, I think the distinction is between 'using' the signal, i.e. receiving or transmitting data with it, vs just 'seeing' the signal to detect where it's coming from, and your position in relation to it.
Inertial navigation can help fill in the gaps when you're going through a tunnel, for instance, but it loses it's accuracy after a while.
Mark Lewus
The Communication Act of 1934 allows Americans to receive any RF signal that happens to pervade their location, at no charge to them.
There are some limitations to this, of course. The telecom act was used as a defense for people using radar detectors in places where they are illegal. That defense was not too successful. I recall the reason was that the user's intent was to use the received signals to break the law and basically for no other purpose, radar detector ad hype notwithstanding. Since in this case the primary intent is not to use the received signals to break the law there should be no problem in people using "Signals of Opportunity" for location services. Or so he said.
kellory
@mark, CORRECT! That is also why cable companies now scramble their signals BEFORE transmission to a satalite, because anyone with a dish could pick up the signal for free, before it was sent out over cables. Now dish owners need a descrambler.
Slowburn
re; Mark Lewus
Given how wildly inaccurate police radar is knowing how fast you were going when you were panted by the radar is a good first step in beating the bogas ticket.