The future of mobile sat nav: exciting times ahead

Posted on: 25/07/2017

Google announcement opens up unprecedented possibilities for innovation

If you’re part of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) community then you’re aware of big changes afoot. If you’re not part of the community, it doesn’t matter. Because this will affect us all eventually.

GNSS is the standard term for satellite navigation systems that provide autonomous geo-spatial positioning with global coverage. And a recent announcement from Google has caused a big buzz on this front. Google is now giving app developers and the software community access to raw measurements from the GNSS electronics in Android phones in the Android 7 (“Nougat”) operating system.

One of the main players behind this new move is Google’s Principal Software Engineer and Consulting Assistant Professor at Stanford University, Frank van Diggelen. He gave the keynote address at a recent event organised by the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) in collaboration with the Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN).

Following on from the success of last month’s navigation event, Urban Wayfinding and the Brain, The Future of Mobile Sat Nav drew together participants from the transport, tech, mobility, mapping, academic and corporate sectors, all focused on the future of navigation and how changes in software and technology will have a huge impact. And one message was key on the day – it’s all about the data.

Effective mobility is key to making things work. It’s key to progress and growth. And developers working to serve this demand need access to data and analytics – collecting data, processing it and using it to develop better outcomes.

This is why Google’s new move is big news. Raw measurements have never been available to phone developers before. Now they will be and this opens up a whole host of possibilities for the developer community, for example in improved accuracy, jamming and spoofing detection, new data monitoring capability, motion and place analysis and AR and VR. Giving an insight into the current working streams at Google, Frank van Diggelen revealed that AR and VR is one of the big development areas at Google right now, with lots of information available for developers.

There are challenges to be overcome of course. A presentation from University College London pointed to the issues around satellite blocking in large urban areas from tall buildings. But solutions are underway to tackle the problems by exploiting this new data, using 3D mapping for example to determine which satellite signals are direct line-of-sight and which are less-accurate reflections. And there is a need for education in the sector which a forthcoming white paper – explaining how to use Android raw measurements – aims to address.

Industries that stand to benefit initially from the new moves include transport, construction, surveying and 3D mapping. But in the end we all will benefit. Today there are more mobile devices than people in the world and most people are connected by a mobile device. GNSS is not only about where we are, it’s about what’s going on around us.

KTN Knowledge Transfer Manager Bob Cockshott says “we are using KTN’s unique breadth and depth of contacts across many sectors to facilitate exploitation of this new opportunity. Perhaps the most exciting applications are the ones we haven’t yet thought of.”

Exciting times ahead indeed.


Delegates at The Future of Mobile Sat Nav event were asked to provide feedback about the topics discussed – the results can be found here.

For more information, please contact Bob Cockshott, Knowledge Transfer Manager for Position, Navigation and Timing and Quantum Technology. To stay up to date on all of our events and activities, make sure you have registered for our newsletter.


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