How Coherent Navigation can help Apple with location technology and talent

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 2015
Apple's recent acquisition of Coherent Navigation, a California firm that worked on high-precision satellite navigation projects for the likes of the U.S. Navy, might at first seem a bit outside of the iPhone maker's wheelhouse.?But a closer look reveals what could, in fact, be an excellent match.




As a company, Coherent Navigation is typical of small startups that do high-value research and development. It was founded by subject-matter experts from Stanford and Cornell, carries just a handful of full-time staff, and appears to have been primarily engaged in projects funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

In a slide from a presentation given at Stanford's 2009 Position, Navigation, and Time symposium, Coherent employees described the company as pioneering "advanced positioning, navigation, timing, and communication (PNT+C) solutions for government and civilian market." They touted improvements in accuracy, availability, integrity, and jam resistance that could be gained from Coherent's technology.

Coherent's primary claim to (public) fame was its work on High-Integrity GPS, or "iGPS." That program, initiated by the Naval Research Laboratory, sought to improve the reliability of military GPS units by co-processing signals from the Navstar GPS satellite network with signals from the underutilized Iridium communications constellation.

A subsequent presentation from Boeing's Phantom Works division posited that a single Iridium satellite could be used as the equivalent of two "static" GPS satellites.

According to Boeing, the result would be centimeter-level accuracy, the ability to acquire a position fix in only a few seconds --?compared to as long as 40 seconds for traditional GPS, or even longer in poor conditions -- and greater resistance to active and passive signal jamming.




A side benefit of the increased sensitivity of iGPS is the ability to use GPS effectively in environments where it doesn't currently work very well: situations where the user is surrounded by tall buildings, under heavy foliage, in a canyon or ravine, or even indoors.

Similar satellite-based augmentation systems (SBAS) have been in place for years, primarily to serve the civil aviation sector. Airline pilots flying in North America can use the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), which was developed by the FAA, for high-precision positioning in every phase of flight?-?even depending on it for landings.

SBAS programs like WAAS are imperfect, however. They generally depend on a large network of ground stations in addition to satellites, and are ill-suited for non-aviation applications.

iGPS wouldn't have those limitations, but it's unlikely to ever be offered for civilian use. Since Apple isn't a military contractor, what might they be looking for by acquiring Coherent?

In a word, expertise.
Improved positioning technology could have a wide-ranging impact across all of Apple's product lines.
Apple already augments the built-in GPS on its devices in a number of ways. Wi-Fi positioning, tower multilateration, inertial navigation, and A-GPS are all in the company's arsenal.

Unfortunately, anyone who has ever tried to track their route through midtown Manhattan using iOS location services knows that there's room for improvement.

This is where Coherent's team can contribute. Their extensive experience in building more accurate positioning systems could prove invaluable as Apple works to improve its mapping services --?and not just the user-facing portions.

Apple's army of vans points to a wide-ranging effort to produce high-resolution geospatial data. Combined with ultra-accurate positioning, that could be a significant advantage for the company's rumored self-driving car project.

Of course, it's also possible that Coherent had pivoted to develop some new technology that it had yet to publicly reveal. Before it was pulled down last month, Coherent's website said that the firm was "working on high-precision GPS solutions that work with the Iridium [sic]," but was only offering current products to the U.S. government and its allies.

In short, this looks like a prototypical Apple acquisition: a small company with a smart, well-respected team built around an impressive core technology that will likely form the anonymous foundation of a still-unknown product.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 30
    Can it help Apple finally fix iCloud? I cannot for the life of me figure out why Apple cannot fix the miserable design and execution of iCloud for the users.
  • Reply 2 of 30
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 19,284member
    The value of DARPA-funding for some of these projects should not be underestimated. I know some folks complain about military projects but they can also lead to valuable consumer uses, SIRi, Boston Dynamics, and Coherant among them as examples of DARPA investments. The US government sometimes helps even us little guys, even tho that might not have been the focus. :D
  • Reply 3 of 30
    Apple is NOT building a self-driving car. They don't follow Google- they lead. Apple never has and never will copy Google- they will leapfrog them. Wait and see...
  • Reply 4 of 30
    bobjohnsonbobjohnson Posts: 154member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Macman1984 View Post



    Apple is NOT building a self-driving car. They don't follow Google- they lead. Apple never has and never will copy Google- they will leapfrog them. Wait and see...

     

    Apple is NOT building their own maps. They don't follow Google- they lead. Apple never has and never will copy Google- they will leapfrog them. Wait and see...

     

    Apple is NOT building a search engine. They don't follow Google- they lead. Apple never has and never will copy Google- they will leapfrog them. Wait and see...

     

    Apple is NOT building a special wearable OS. They don't follow Google- they lead. Apple never has and never will copy Google- they will leapfrog them. Wait and see...

  • Reply 5 of 30
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 29,906member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Macman1984 View Post



    Apple is NOT building a self-driving car. They don't follow Google- they lead. Apple never has and never will copy Google- they will leapfrog them. Wait and see...



    Of greatest interest to me is what Google, IBM, Apple, Amazon and Facebook end up doing with artificial intelligence. Things are going to get really interesting, really fast over the next 5-10 years.

  • Reply 6 of 30

    Sorry- I guess I wasn't clear.  Yes, Google did do maps and wearables, but Apple leapfrogged them and did them better.  What I was trying to say was Apple will not just "do" a self-driving car- it will leapfrog Google and be better.  Perhaps it's more accurate to say that Apple outdoes Google.  They race to where the puck will be, not where it is (Google) now.

  • Reply 7 of 30
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,274member
    This is no different that Apple buying PA Semi which is the core to their SOC for the mobile computering business today. Apple has the ability to find gems like this which are not over inflated with hype like a number of companies which we saw big acquistion which will never return what they cost. No one seems to be interested in companies who are focus on the government as the end customer, But apple have found a few of these and got them at a deal price.
  • Reply 8 of 30
    pdq2pdq2 Posts: 270member

    Iridium satellites?!

     

    Dear God, is someone still operating them? I thought their sole purpose was carrying buckets of (née) Motorola cash into space, so as to burn up on rentry and illuminate the egos of the CEOs responsible...

  • Reply 9 of 30
    tmaytmay Posts: 3,151member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by pdq2 View Post

     

    Iridium satellites?!

     

    Dear God, is someone still operating them? I thought their sole purpose was carrying buckets of (née) Motorola cash into space, so as to burn up on rentry and illuminate the egos of the CEOs responsible...


    Iridium Communications operates the satellites and the DOD pays for about 25% of use; the rest is commercial. There is plans for a second generation of satellites to be built be Lockheed Martin and Thales. The original company went bankrupt in 1999.

     

    That would be 15 years ago. Where have you been all that time?

  • Reply 10 of 30
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,099member
    As Apple pulls their long-game mapping plan together, I have the feels it's going to blow everything else to smithereens. Sort of like the continuity stuff between Mac & iOS, really, it's going to be something only Apple can do.
  • Reply 11 of 30
    john.bjohn.b Posts: 2,716member
    All the positional accuracy in the world won't help if the POI data itself is crap.
  • Reply 12 of 30
    freediverxfreediverx Posts: 1,400member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Margo Mitchell View Post



    Can it help Apple finally fix iCloud? I cannot for the life of me figure out why Apple cannot fix the miserable design and execution of iCloud for the users.

     

    Wow you signed up just to share that insightful thought? What do you feel is wrong with iCloud, and how could satellite navigation technology possibly have an impact on it?

  • Reply 13 of 30
    freediverxfreediverx Posts: 1,400member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gatorguy View Post



    The value of DARPA-funding for some of these projects should not be underestimated. I know some folks complain about military projects but they can also lead to valuable consumer uses, SIRi, Boston Dynamics, and Coherant among them as examples of DARPA investments. The US government sometimes helps even us little guys, even tho that might not have been the focus. image

     

    And Mussolini got the trains to run on time, so I guess we shouldn't be so hard on fascist dictators.

     

    I find it hilarious how some people think social safety net programs are wastes of money that must be abolished, while supporting out of control military spending that dwarfs the rest of the world's military spending with little to show for it. The US military's track record for the last few decades consists of a string of failed wars and trillion dollar programs for fighter planes with non-functional software, a tendency to spontaneously catch fire, and an inability to fly anywhere near lightning.

  • Reply 14 of 30
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    Can it help Apple finally fix iCloud? I cannot for the life of me figure out why Apple cannot fix the miserable design and execution of iCloud for the users.

    if could care to explain what it is your talking about, it would help.
  • Reply 15 of 30
    freediverxfreediverx Posts: 1,400member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Macman1984 View Post



    Apple is NOT building a self-driving car. They don't follow Google- they lead. Apple never has and never will copy Google- they will leapfrog them. Wait and see...

     

    You're mistaken about Apple's definition of leadership. They don't care about being first, they care about changing the world. Autonomous cars are going to be huge, and it makes a ton of sense for Apple to play a leading role in its development.

  • Reply 16 of 30
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,586member
    Can it help Apple finally fix iCloud? I cannot for the life of me figure out why Apple cannot fix the miserable design and execution of iCloud for the users.

    Given iCloud works perfectly for me and many folks I know and work with, may I suggest the problem you perceive as being Apple's issue could in fact be at your end in some form or another, miserable or otherwise.
  • Reply 17 of 30
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,586member
    gatorguy wrote: »
    The value of DARPA-funding for some of these projects should not be underestimated. I know some folks complain about military projects but they can also lead to valuable consumer uses, SIRi, Boston Dynamics, and Coherant among them as examples of DARPA investments. The US government sometimes helps even us little guys, even tho that might not have been the focus. :D

    Totally agree. Heck the internet itself to name but one.
  • Reply 18 of 30
    charelcharel Posts: 93member
    This is just an attempt to get to European levels of accuracy. The European system is built to give accurate details of location and hight within centimeters of the actual levels. This is only a US approximation of the EU system.
  • Reply 19 of 30
    applesauce007applesauce007 Posts: 1,540member

    Look at this list of mapping acquisitions:

           PlaceBase 

           Poly9

       ***C3 Technologies

       ***WiFiSlam

           Locationary

           HopStop

           Embark

           BroadMap

       ***Coherent Navigations

     

    3 companies ( Coherent Navigations, C3 Technologies, and WiFiSlam) really stand out to revolutionize core mapping data collection.  If Apple has a deal with Iridium to get access to the satellites, It could update the entire world map very accurately in a matter of days if weather permits.  The satellites could give live traffic information very accurately. Most importantly, the world map could be accurately updated for every season if not every month with minimal effort.

     

    Who ever agrees to pay $3 Billion or more for Nokia Here data this month could be making a big mistake.

     

    Time will tell.

  • Reply 20 of 30
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,036member
    "Apple already augments the built-in GPS on its devices in a number of ways. Wi-Fi positioning, tower multilateration, inertial navigation, and A-GPS are all in the company's arsenal. "

    Apple also makes use of the GLONASS (GPS compatible) network.
    Also, Galileo, Europe's global positioning system is taking off and gives a resolution of one meter (horizontal and vertical). That seems to be a better bet than iGPS.
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