Taking GPS With You, Even Indoors

Course Zero Automation, an MIT startup, has been continuing development of the personal navigation unit they demonstrated at the 2008 Soldier Design Competition (winning the Boeing Prize).

Their device takes the existing technology of inertial navigation and improves upon it to make it lower cost, smaller, and provide longer battery life.

Because GPS requires a line-of-sight connection with satellites, it cannot work in urban canyons, in caves, or inside buildings. Inertial navigation works around this problem, while delivering sub-meter accuracy and full orientation data (yaw, pitch, and roll), with several times the update rate of conventional GPS.

Inertial navigation is not a new technology; in fact, it has been around for
decades, initially consisting of gyroscopic sensors and used primarily for
missile guidance systems. Today, inertial navigation units consist of GPS units, atmospheric pressure and airspeed sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetic field sensors, all fused through complex software to deliver the most accurate positioning data available, even where conventional navigation units will not work.

Of course, inertial navigation isn’t perfect. Imagine walking around a room
with your eyes closed. For a short distance, you can navigate with reasonable precision, but for longer trips, your sense of relative location tends to drift. But if you know something about the environment – that the room gets warmer at one corner, or that the floor is slanted – the drift is reduced. Eliminating drift, and finding new senses to take advantage of, are the biggest challenges in developing a functional inertial navigation unit.


Course Zero Automation is reducing drift in their device by incorporating a unique variety of sensors and developing software to determine the reliability and usability of each. Power consumption and cost will be reduced by using commercially available sensors intended for videogame and cell phone integration. This use of pre-existing components lowers development costs and allows more focus on innovative software and filter development, which is where many high-end inertial navigation units are lacking.

A low-cost inertial navigation device will have uses outside the consumer handheld market. Aside from multiple applications in the defense industry, first responders will be able to use the same device to identify their location within a smoke filled building, or to identify the location of a fallen comrade.

Course Zero Automation will be developing an even smaller module for OEM integration into automobiles, cell phones, and cameras for full six-degree-of freedom geotagging.

While there is no release date publicly announced, please feel free to direct your inquiries to Course Zero Automation at inquiries@coursezero.com.

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