Space technology enables positioning without GPS

Posted Dec 10, 2018 by Tim Sandle
A German aerospace group have developed a new navigation system that functions in environments where GPS is not available. The platform is called the Integrated Positioning System.
An image of the Earth taken by the Russian weather satellite Elektro-L No.1.
An image of the Earth taken by the Russian weather satellite Elektro-L No.1.
GigaPan / Russian Space Agency / NTsOMZ
The Integrated Positioning System is optical based and it determines a location without the need for any prior information about the environment and without the need for any external reference points. The technology was originally developed for determining locations in outer space; however, the technology has since been applied for more Earth-bound applications.
The platform has been developed by the German Aerospace research center DLR. The types of applications that the technology can be used for include: investigations of areas outside of the traditional reach of GPS such as tunnels, mines or shielded industrial complexes.
The technology behind the Integrated Positioning System is a multi-sensor system. This draws upon various measurement techniques, which come together as so to minimize the risk of errors.
Speaking with EE News Europe, the manager behind the Integrated Positioning System project - Anko Börner – explains: “The system can be used, for example, to inspect industrial plants or mines, but also to support autonomous driving.”
Börner adds: “They are, so to speak, the technical eye and provide comprehensive and valuable data. Just as the eye is the most important sensory organ for humans, optical systems are the primary sensor for detecting the surroundings of technical devices.”
To confirm the reliability of the navigation results an indoor experiment was conducted at the DLR offices in Berlin-Adlershof. For this, fifteen 15 independent trials were conducted, each started at a fixed point. The experiment took place under real life conditions, such as with changing lighting, low texturing and optical disturbances generated by moving people along office corridors.
Working models of the Integrated Positioning System have been produced. An example is the DMT PILOT 3D. This technology was produced in cooperation with DLR and it provided accurate altitude determination as well as 3D documentation, to assist with aircraft navigation.
As with the core technology, the DMT PILOT 3D, which comes in the form of a portable device, was originally designed for a non-Earth related purpose: to assist with missions to Mars. The technology has also been used with the inspection of mines and ships.
Future developments with optical sensor systems include robotics and drones, many of which will be international collaborations.