Apple imagines citywide ground-based navigation infrastructure to augment, replace GPS

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 2016
In a patent awarded to Apple on Tuesday, the company imagines entire cities outfitted with low-power wireless transmitters capable of sending pinpoint-accurate location data, as well as dynamic environmental alerts, to iPhones and in-car navigation systems.


Source: USPTO


As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,344,989 for a "System with wireless messages to enhance location accuracy" continues the company's investigation into beacon-based navigation, but on a grand scale. Instead of helping iPhone owners find their parked car in an underground lot, or triangulate their position using advanced geofencing algorithms, Apple's latest invention seeks to address weaknesses inherent in all GPS-based navigation systems.

Specifically, today's patent attempts to solve signal reception issues that crop up in densely populated cities, sometimes referred to as urban canyon environments for their tall buildings, while at the same time increasing the granularity of positioning data. Importantly, Apple's solution consumes less power than A-GPS, Wi-Fi positioning and cellular tower triangulation techniques, all current augmentations to vanilla GPS.

The bold plan calls for a multitude of stationary transmitters to be installed at strategic locations next to or near a city's roads, such as adjacent buildings, within preexisting traffic lights, roadside signs, guard rails and other structures. Each transmitter is basically a smart wireless hub bristling with radio transceivers -- an ideal configuration supports cellular, Bluetooth Low Energy, Wi-Fi and GPS data transfer protocols. The equipment can be fed by AC line power or solar.




In operation, a stationary waypoint device broadcasts its location data, plotted on a Cartesian plane, via wireless Bluetooth LE messages. Each message is sent out at a known signal strength, allowing the receiving device, like an iPhone or car, to extrapolate its relative location based on a received signal strength indicator (RSSI) value. The receiving device might use a variety of techniques to determine its absolute position depending on the number and quality of messages received, with two options including triangulation and time-of-flight computations.

In some embodiments, an iPhone can use location data provided by the static devices in concert with GPS information, though Apple's invention is capable of operating as a closed system. As a bonus, the transmitters can also send out z-axis (vertical height) data -- for use on multi-level highways, for example -- a measurement often available from commercial GPS systems.

Applied to navigation, the system can be configured to track vehicle movement with a high degree of accuracy. For example, a series of transmitters might be installed along off-ramps and on-ramps, forks in a road, freeway exits and other areas where traditional GPS systems often fail to resolve user position with adequate accuracy.

While not mentioned in today's document, Apple's invention could play a role in autonomous vehicle logic. In particular, the described transmitters can be configured to broadcast rich data containing information regarding traffic, road and other driving conditions. For example, a user might be informed of an upcoming speed limit change, hazardous road condition or inclement weather when driving past a connected transmitter. With existing in-car equipment, these messages might present as an onscreen dialogue and audible alert. In the future, however, the same roadside beacons could inform an onboard AI of its surrounding environment, prompting it to take action as necessary.




Autonomous vehicle development revolves around artificial intelligence, computer vision and machine learning, but those advanced systems have yet to be vetted by government agencies and are not proven in mass real world deployments. A hardware safeguard, perhaps similar to Apple's proposed infrastructure, might help bridge the gap between current automotive technology and a world where driverless cars rule the road.

Apple itself is widely rumored to be working on a branded electric vehicle that some believe will feature autonomous vehicle functionality. Evidence of a so-called "Apple Car" has yet to materialize, but AppleInsider last year uncovered a secret car lab Apple is operating out of Sunnyvale, Calif. Adding fuel to rampant speculation, Apple last week announced a massive $1 billion investment in Chinese Uber competitor Didi Chuxing, a firm with obvious automotive industry ties.

Apple's citywide navigation system patent was first filed for in September 2012 and credits Devrim Varoglu and Ravisastry Parupudi as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    What a hugely expensive and, stupid idea.  Good luck with that.  It will be interesting to see Apple try and convince others to foot the bill for the necessary infrastructure.
    singularity
  • Reply 2 of 22
    NY1822NY1822 Posts: 499member
    Anyone who thinks Apple lacks innovation should read the Apple patents on their inventions yet to come to market on this website: http://www.patentlyapple.com
    and click "granted patents" from category on the right side.
    edited May 2016
  • Reply 3 of 22
    dick applebaumdick applebaum Posts: 12,444member
    cnocbui said:
    What a hugely expensive and, stupid idea.  Good luck with that.  It will be interesting to see Apple try and convince others to foot the bill for the necessary infrastructure.

    Expensive and stupid ?   Like the GPS infrastructure ?  Like the WiFi assisted GPS infrastructure ?  Like the cell phone infrastructure ?


     Reminds me of an old story about testing the problem-solving capability of a mathematician and an engineer:

    The mathematician and engineer are against the wall of a forty-foot wide room --  a beautiful lady is against the opposite wall.

    The question: if you can halve the distance with each step, how many steps will it take to reach the lady?

    Mathemerician says:  the problem is insolvable -- I can never reach the lady.

    Engineer says:  I can get close enough!

    edited May 2016 boopthesnootairbubbleredraider11tdknoxiqatedomdriftmeyerstevehirnchrizjony0nolamacguy
  • Reply 4 of 22
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,561member
    This will happen in one form or another as the development of the autonomous vehicle rolls on, but this cannot/ should not be a proprietary system. It needs to be implemented on a municipal / national level and be open to all. Anything else would be retarded. 
  • Reply 5 of 22
    dick applebaumdick applebaum Posts: 12,444member
    paxman said:
    This will happen in one form or another as the development of the autonomous vehicle rolls on, but this cannot/ should not be a proprietary system. It needs to be implemented on a municipal / national level and be open to all. Anything else would be retarded. 

    Yes!

    The patents could be offered as FRAND ...  And you know that Federal, State and Local regulators will have their hands in the pot!

  • Reply 6 of 22
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    cnocbui said:
    What a hugely expensive and, stupid idea.  Good luck with that.  It will be interesting to see Apple try and convince others to foot the bill for the necessary infrastructure.

    Expensive and stupid ?   Like the GPS infrastructure ?  Like the WiFi assisted GPS infrastructure ?

    Current GPS techniques leverage existing infrastructure so the ongoing cost is minor.  What exactly is WiFi assisted GPS?  I haven't heard of it being in widespread use.  A-GPS I am more familiar with and there is no infrastructure cost as it just uses that already in place.

    Apple's proposal seems to be a 'we can't match Google and others lead in self-driving systems, could you help us out a bit?"

    Apple's scheme would appear to necessitate an infrastructure that would dwarf any cities street lighting in terms of complexity and cabling.  The rightmost diagram appears to suggest a 10m spacing on a bend for these nodes.  The cost of equipping cities and towns with a vast number of these transponders obviously required would be simply staggering.

    With Europe's Galileo GPS system accurate to a few centimeters, I would have thought using and leveraging that would be a far more practical and cost-effective approach.
    singularity
  • Reply 7 of 22
    gmacgmac Posts: 75member
    cnocbui said:

    Expensive and stupid ?   Like the GPS infrastructure ?  Like the WiFi assisted GPS infrastructure ?

    Current GPS techniques leverage existing infrastructure so the ongoing cost is minor.  What exactly is WiFi assisted GPS?  I haven't heard of it being in widespread use.  A-GPS I am more familiar with and there is no infrastructure cost as it just uses that already in place.

    WIFI assisted GPS uses wifi location information gathered by the mapping vehicles of companies like google recording SSID and MAC information of wifi spots as they crawl streets.  With WIFI assisted GPS, this information can help reduce the time to triangulate a GPS position and reduce the time required to lock on to the gps satellite signals by giving the device a known starting point.  Basically your phone listens for wifi signals, and over cellular queries a DB of these locations to find the location of that wifi hotspot.  Then with GPS its location can be known more precisely.  This has been around since the first iPhone with GPS. The first iPhone used wifi without GPS for location finding.


    tdknoxcnocbui
  • Reply 8 of 22
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 29,541member
    Sounds suspiciously like a mesh network to me.
  • Reply 9 of 22
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    gmac said:
    cnocbui said:
    Current GPS techniques leverage existing infrastructure so the ongoing cost is minor.  What exactly is WiFi assisted GPS?  I haven't heard of it being in widespread use.  A-GPS I am more familiar with and there is no infrastructure cost as it just uses that already in place.

    WIFI assisted GPS uses wifi location information gathered by the mapping vehicles of companies like google recording SSID and MAC information of wifi spots as they crawl streets.  With WIFI assisted GPS, this information can help reduce the time to triangulate a GPS position and reduce the time required to lock on to the gps satellite signals by giving the device a known starting point.  Basically your phone listens for wifi signals, and over cellular queries a DB of these locations to find the location of that wifi hotspot.  Then with GPS its location can be known more precisely.  This has been around since the first iPhone with GPS. The first iPhone used wifi without GPS for location finding.


    Thanks.  Do any devices use it?  The only infrastructure cost I can see is the mapping as it's just levaraging things already in the environment.  Doesn't seem like a very viable strategy given WiFi networks come and go with rapidity.
  • Reply 10 of 22
    yuck9yuck9 Posts: 64member
    cnocbui said:
    What a hugely expensive and, stupid idea.  Good luck with that.  It will be interesting to see Apple try and convince others to foot the bill for the necessary infrastructure.

    GPS Is free. This looks like a data sucking monster.  Wonder how it works out in the sticks with no Wi-Fi ? GPS has a 3 foot hit or miss.
    Gov could make it less then 3 feet. But then you open up a new can of worms with that. 
  • Reply 11 of 22
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,888member
    cnocbui said:
    gmac said:
    WIFI assisted GPS uses wifi location information gathered by the mapping vehicles of companies like google recording SSID and MAC information of wifi spots as they crawl streets.  With WIFI assisted GPS, this information can help reduce the time to triangulate a GPS position and reduce the time required to lock on to the gps satellite signals by giving the device a known starting point.  Basically your phone listens for wifi signals, and over cellular queries a DB of these locations to find the location of that wifi hotspot.  Then with GPS its location can be known more precisely.  This has been around since the first iPhone with GPS. The first iPhone used wifi without GPS for location finding.


    Thanks.  Do any devices use it?  The only infrastructure cost I can see is the mapping as it's just levaraging things already in the environment.  Doesn't seem like a very viable strategy given WiFi networks come and go with rapidity.
    He answered your question. The iPhone uses it and has for a long time.
  • Reply 12 of 22
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,888member

    cnocbui said:

    Expensive and stupid ?   Like the GPS infrastructure ?  Like the WiFi assisted GPS infrastructure ?

    Current GPS techniques leverage existing infrastructure so the ongoing cost is minor.  What exactly is WiFi assisted GPS?  I haven't heard of it being in widespread use.  A-GPS I am more familiar with and there is no infrastructure cost as it just uses that already in place.

    Apple's proposal seems to be a 'we can't match Google and others lead in self-driving systems, could you help us out a bit?"

    Apple's scheme would appear to necessitate an infrastructure that would dwarf any cities street lighting in terms of complexity and cabling.  The rightmost diagram appears to suggest a 10m spacing on a bend for these nodes.  The cost of equipping cities and towns with a vast number of these transponders obviously required would be simply staggering.

    With Europe's Galileo GPS system accurate to a few centimeters, I would have thought using and leveraging that would be a far more practical and cost-effective approach.
    The infrastructure is already being built within cities installing city-wide free WiFi. Connections between sensors could be hard-wired, WiFi, or use cellular. Look at all the speed (trap) indicators being installed in highways and streets to monitor traffic. HOV lanes have sensors (at least in Washington) monitoring vehicles driving in them automatically billing them for tolls. None of what Apple is patenting is far fetched. As for your comment about Google and self-driving systems, it's going to take a lot of infrastructure to make sure these vehicles work at all times, in all kinds of weather, and on all kinds of roads. 
  • Reply 13 of 22
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    rob53 said:
    cnocbui said:
    Thanks.  Do any devices use it?  The only infrastructure cost I can see is the mapping as it's just levaraging things already in the environment.  Doesn't seem like a very viable strategy given WiFi networks come and go with rapidity.
    He answered your question. The iPhone uses it and has for a long time.
    So he did, I mistook it for a reference to phone tower based assisted GPS.
  • Reply 14 of 22
    Don't discount improvements in satellite based location fixes.  Multi-GNSS systems improve on using just GPS by combining it with Glonass, Beidou, Galileo, and other emerging systems to improve time to fix and accuracy.  We already see supporting chipsets in some products but these will be in widespread use over the next year or two.
  • Reply 15 of 22
    igorskyigorsky Posts: 412member
    cnocbui said:
    What a hugely expensive and, stupid idea.  Good luck with that.  It will be interesting to see Apple try and convince others to foot the bill for the necessary infrastructure.

    Great comment.  Your lack of imagination notwithstanding, very interesting to see what they can do with this idea.  Feel free to continue using paper maps.
    edited May 2016 ai46jony0cornchipnolamacguy
  • Reply 16 of 22
    volcanvolcan Posts: 1,640member
    Don't discount improvements in satellite based location fixes.  Multi-GNSS systems improve on using just GPS by combining it with Glonass, Beidou, Galileo, and other emerging systems to improve time to fix and accuracy.  We already see supporting chipsets in some products but these will be in widespread use over the next year or two.
    With the huge build up of nations with advanced missile technology, GPS satellites seem like a likely target if tensions escalate out of control between the militaristic entities.
  • Reply 17 of 22
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,725member
    Don't discount improvements in satellite based location fixes.  Multi-GNSS systems improve on using just GPS by combining it with Glonass, Beidou, Galileo, and other emerging systems to improve time to fix and accuracy.  We already see supporting chipsets in some products but these will be in widespread use over the next year or two.
    These improvements can't get you to 1cm resolution or reduce setup time all that much. You need local infrastructure, several permanent beacons with a definite established coordinates, like what farmers use to plow fields with extreme precision, to do that. They use a combination of local beacon and GPS to do the job.
    edited May 2016
  • Reply 18 of 22
    stevehsteveh Posts: 477member
    cnocbui said:
    What a hugely expensive and, stupid idea.  Good luck with that.  It will be interesting to see Apple try and convince others to foot the bill for the necessary infrastructure.
    Priced GPS, GLONASS or Galileo infrastructure lately?

    Nobody (much) thinks about, say, GPS on a day to day basis any more, but what happens if it goes down? I mean, cats and dogs living together, etc.

    Seriously, losing a satellite navigation system could have serious consequences for things like air transport, shipping, etc. (Which is why eLORAN is being pushed again as a backup in case of GPS failure or jamming.) The problem was highlighted last year when the whole 24-satellite GLONASS system went down. While it wasn't inconvenient for, say, GPS users in most of the world, at high latitudes GPS becomes increasingly less useful, and GLONASS specifically covers those regions.

    As far as cost goes, unlike a satellite navigation system, you don't need to spend a couple billion before the system begins to work at all, much less need 24 satellites, with a few spares, to get full utility. Local stations need not be expensive, and you don't have to wait for the complete system to be in place before it would be usable.

    This doesn't say much about whether or not it will ever take off in the real world, but cost isn't that much of an issue for local or regional utility.
  • Reply 19 of 22
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    steveh said:
    cnocbui said:
    What a hugely expensive and, stupid idea.  Good luck with that.  It will be interesting to see Apple try and convince others to foot the bill for the necessary infrastructure.
    Priced GPS, GLONASS or Galileo infrastructure lately?

    Nobody (much) thinks about, say, GPS on a day to day basis any more, but what happens if it goes down? I mean, cats and dogs living together, etc.

    Seriously, losing a satellite navigation system could have serious consequences for things like air transport, shipping, etc. (Which is why eLORAN is being pushed again as a backup in case of GPS failure or jamming.) The problem was highlighted last year when the whole 24-satellite GLONASS system went down. While it wasn't inconvenient for, say, GPS users in most of the world, at high latitudes GPS becomes increasingly less useful, and GLONASS specifically covers those regions.

    As far as cost goes, unlike a satellite navigation system, you don't need to spend a couple billion before the system begins to work at all, much less need 24 satellites, with a few spares, to get full utility. Local stations need not be expensive, and you don't have to wait for the complete system to be in place before it would be usable.

    This doesn't say much about whether or not it will ever take off in the real world, but cost isn't that much of an issue for local or regional utility.
    GPS systems are expensive, but they already exist or are being rolled out, like Galileo.  What is being proposed is an additional infrastructure system costing in the many, many billions - on top of the costs associated with GPS.

    I have been reading this 'what if GPS systems go down' stuff for decades.  The sort of events most likely to disrupt all GPS systems are so terrible and serious that I don't think anyone is going to be cheering that their autonomous car might still work in cities - if it wasn't for all the bits of irradiated buildings blocking the roads, that is.

    As I understand it, this system is most likely being touted for more accurate positioning to assist with autonomous vehicles.  If that is the case, then it isn't something that will be immediately of use the minute you have installed a few.  You either have the system in place so your not very autonomous vehicle can find it's way or you don't, in which case your vehicle won't work.

    If Apple are envisioning they need this to be able to get an autonomous vehicle to work, they might as well try for a patent involving milling a slot down the middle of every road with a pin on the bottom of the Apple car that fits in the slot.  While they are at it they might also suggest putting electrically conductive strips on each side of the slot that could be used to conduct electricity to Apple cars so they don't have to have big batteries.  They could call it scaled-up-trix.

    Centimeter accurate Galileo seems like the better option.
    singularity
  • Reply 20 of 22
    volcanvolcan Posts: 1,640member
    cnocbui said:
    As I understand it, this system is most likely being touted for more accurate positioning to assist with autonomous vehicles. 
    Especially in the cities with all the underpasses and tall buildings, GPS is not always on. You may have noticed the mapping vehicles have a wheel counter attached for just this reason. They use the wheel revolutions to calculate their exact distance based on the last known GPS signal. I imagine having beacons all around town would be serving a similar purpose. Essential for tunnels and underground parking garages, 
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