Tech News : New Sub-60cm GPS Accuracy

US Startup Zephyr’s claim that it has solved smartphone GPS positioning problems through a network and software-based solution with sub-60cm accuracy has attracted $3.5 million seed funding. 

The Issue 

Even though consumers have been putting growing demands on GPS through their increasing use of mobile devices and wearables, and many more businesses and services have become more reliant on it, GPS hasn’t had any major updates for more than 20 years, meaning that it is prone to errors, inaccuracy, and can sometimes be unreliable. 

GPS accuracy on phones has traditionally suffered from various issues which affect the precision of location data. For example, problems like signal blockage from buildings, natural landscape features, or indoor and underground settings can prevent GPS signals from reaching a phone effectively. One key issue highlighted by Zephyr is “multi-path errors,” where a signal from a GPS satellite reaches a receiver more than once, caused by signals bouncing off buildings or other large objects, thereby confusing smartphones with a single antenna.  

Also, atmospheric conditions and satellite geometry can play a role as signals can be distorted by the atmosphere, and if satellites are poorly positioned relative to each other, accuracy drops. 

Phones can also face hardware limitations, e.g. the quality of the GPS receiver and the processing software can introduce errors. Assisted GPS, which uses network data to enhance location locking, can experience problems if network information is imprecise or outdated and electromagnetic interference from other devices can affect signal clarity.  

The integration of additional satellite systems such as GLONASS, Galileo, and Beidou with traditional GPS, along with software improvements, have helped the everyday location accuracy of modern smartphones in recent times, nevertheless it’s often still not accurate enough for users. 

The Implications 

Inaccurate GPS on phones can be frustrating for users by causing navigation problems, leading to lost time and potential safety concerns when driving or walking. It can also disrupt location-based services such as ridesharing, food delivery, or (more seriously) emergency assistance, where precise location information is crucial.  
 
For those relying on GPS for fitness activities, inaccuracies can spoil exercise tracking and goals. Also, inaccurate GPS can affect social experiences by misplacing geotags on social media and leading to mistakes in personal and professional mapping efforts. While generally reliable, the limitations of phone GPS can, therefore, cause inconveniences in daily life. 

Zephr’s CEO Sean Gorman summarises the problems that poor GPS accuracy can cause, saying: “GPS is an essential technology for so many services we now rely on, and yet it is plagued by inaccuracy. This poses many challenges for businesses and consumers, and it will hamper the growth of developing technologies like augmented reality and autonomy.”  

Mr Gorman points out the benefits of a solution that can improve accuracy, saying: “Improved accuracy in GPS can translate into millions of dollars in economic benefit, but for us, it’s about more than just money. A more accurate GPS system can also improve daily routines and personal safety, from preventing navigational errors to creating safer collision-avoidance systems in vehicles and enabling more advanced search-and-rescue efforts.”  

Zephr’s Solution 

Colorado-based Zephr claims that its network-based solution to GPS inaccuracy has achieved sub-60cm GPS accuracy in field trials (a level of accuracy typically not seen in consumer GPS solutions) using nothing more than existing satellites and mobile devices networked together to share correction data. The company says its “breakthrough” networked GPS solution enhances accuracy by 5X-10X (<1m) for mobile devices and wearables. 

Zephr also claims that its solution (which is purely software-based and doesn’t require hardware changes to a device or a new chipset or firmware) will be able to increase accuracy in dense urban environments, thereby solving problems caused by building-bounce and blocked line-of-sight. 

How? 

In short, Zephr’s system creates a multi-receiver system, i.e. it turns users’ mobile devices into base stations which generate error corrections. Interconnected GNSS (global navigation satellite system) measurements across multiple devices thereby enables Zephr’s system to not only eliminate common errors and inaccuracies, but also to bring a stable and reliable signal with less risk of interference.

The Benefits

The benefits of this software/network-based solution are: 

– It’s fast and easy – billions of existing mobile devices can easily upgrade their GPS accuracy directly out of the box, with no need for hardware solutions. 

– Easy integration – as a standalone SDK product it will allow any mobile app to easily upgrade GPS accuracy by embedding the feature. 

– It’s cheap – it uses existing satellites and software. 

– Economic and human value – it could create cost savings, create opportunities in many industries, and unlock new markets in new/emerging ones, e.g. navigation, delivery/logistics, rideshare, agriculture, advertising, search and rescue services, location-based apps, collision avoidance systems, autonomous vehicles (robot/drone delivery systems), augmented reality, location-based gaming, and smart cities. 

– It retains privacy – Zephyr says: “User information is always minimised, anonymised, short-lived, never sold or transferred, and protected from third-party access.” 

Funding 

The simplicity and accuracy of the solution (plus its many possibilities) have meant that Zephr has been able to attract $3.5 million of funding in a seed round led by Space Capital and First Spark Ventures. It’s been reported that this significant amount of funding will help support Zephr’s GTM strategy as it goes for rapid growth over the next year. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Zephyr’s GPS accuracy solution could represent a significant milestone for businesses across a broad spectrum of industries. With the claim of solving GPS inaccuracies using software, Zephyr’s technology promises to deliver sub-60cm location precision, a game-changer for any business reliant on geolocation data. This could mean enhanced reliability and fewer errors for logistics and delivery services, ensuring packages reach their destinations more efficiently, and with greater customer satisfaction. For the rideshare and transport sectors, improved accuracy will lead to quicker, more reliable pickups and drop-offs, optimising route planning and saving on fuel and time – in short, service improvements and cost substantial savings. 

Emerging markets and technologies also stand to gain substantially from Zephyr’s innovation. For example, agricultural businesses can employ more precise GPS for planting, harvesting, and monitoring equipment, which can lead to better resource management and yield prediction. In advertising, location-based marketing could become more targeted and effective, with the potential to engage consumers based on precise location data. 

For vital services like search and rescue, the benefits are potentially lifesaving, with the ability to pinpoint locations swiftly and accurately (when every second counts). Autonomous vehicles, including drones and robots for delivery systems could also benefit by being able to navigate more safely and efficiently, reducing the risk of accidents and enabling them to operate in more complex environments. This could help advance this whole new field, e.g. Amazon’s robots and its new delivery drones. The augmented reality and gaming industries could also see an uptick in immersion and gameplay possibilities, as real-world accuracy becomes a stable foundation for virtual experiences, thereby helping to create new products and opportunities and generate more revenue. 

There may also be an important knock-on effect of this precision for smart city initiatives. For example, urban planning, infrastructure management, and public safety could all be revolutionised with accurate, reliable geolocation data at their core. The implications for the Internet of Things (IoT) are also vast, with the potential for devices to communicate and operate with a new level of location intelligence. 

Zephyr’s commitment to privacy is also likely to be promising for businesses using the technology and for more privacy-conscious consumers. 

Zephyr’s fix and what essentially represents the first big (and necessary) change to a GPS system in 20+ years that’s been increasingly in demand could see widespread integration into countless applications. This could inject efficiency and accuracy into current services while catalysing the development of new ones. As a result, businesses that adapt quickly to this technology could see significant ROI, not only through direct economic benefits but also via enhanced customer trust and brand reputation. The $3.5 million in seed funding reflects investor confidence in Zephyr’s solution, suggesting a ripe market ready for businesses harnessing the power of improved GPS technology.

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