Emerging GPS rival uses Wi-Fi and TV signals to navigate

NAVSOP uses multiple sources of radio emissions and machine learning to pinpoint users' locations to within a few metres, according to its manufacturer BAE Systems

A GPS rival that uses machine learning about radio and TV emissions to pinpoint location has been developed by UK defence company BAE Systems.

The Navigation via Signals of Opportunity (NAVSOP) technology, which BAE Systems said could replace GPS, can calculate a user's location to within a few metres, according to the company.

NAVSOP combines signals information from GPS satellites, Wi-Fi routers, TV communications towers, air traffic control communications, mobile base stations and radio masts to get a picture of the location. The system can be integrated with existing GPS navigation devices, according to BAE Systems.

"The real beauty of NAVSOP is that the infrastructure required to make it work is already in place," the company said in a statement on Friday. "There is no need to build costly networks of transmitters, and the hardware behind the system is already commercially available."

By combining emissions information from multiple sources, NAVSOP reduces reliance on GPS, the company argues.

GPS, which is used in mission-critical systems such as aircraft navigation and timing of financial transactions, is vulnerable to jamming and spoofing due to the weakness of the GPS signal broadcast by satellites. However, NAVSOP can exploit sources of GPS interference such as jammers and use them as navigation aids, its maker said.

BAE Systems is in talks with automotive and telecoms companies to commercialise the technology for civilian use, a company spokesman told ZDNet UK.

Possible military uses of the technology include navigation of unmanned 'drone' aircraft.

"The potential applications of this technology are already generating huge excitement in both civilian and military circles," Ramsey Faragher, a BAE principal scientist, said in the statement. "This research is a great example of BAE Systems working closely with potential customers to not only improve the performance of existing technology, but also tackle their weaknesses head on and find innovative ways to reduce or eliminate them."

GPS hacks have been implicated in the capture of unmanned US aircraft. In December, Iran claimed to have used GPS spoofing and jamming to take control of a US reconnaissance drone, a claim that has been disputed by US analysts.

BAE Systems has two NAVSOP prototypes: one for indoor positioning, and one for outdoor, Faragher told ZDNet UK on Monday. The prototypes use a number of different measurements including carrier phase and rate, time of arrival, and signal strength. A set of algorithms locate the receiver and transmission sources, and are used to determine transmitter timing stabilities, and timing correlations between different transmitters, said Faragher.