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'GPS 2.0' outline calls for open, hackable, interfaces

If Google and Apple are going to provide location services, why not mash 'em up?

The group that created GPS wants it opened up so it's easier for people to compete on its individual components.

Californian nonprofit The Aerospace Corporation also wants to address the weaknesses that have emerged in GPS in the decades since it was first created – things like jamming and resiliency – without compromising accuracy.

Its so-called “Project Sextant” – outlined in detail in this document (PDF) obtained by Breaking Defense – also notes that while there are many alternative PNT (position, navigation and timing) proposals around, the vertically-integrated nature of GPS makes it hard to adopt them.

For example, there are lots of potential sources of position information that could supplement GPS, for example if the satellite signal is degraded: the world's full of terrain maps, cell towers, Wi-Fi hotspots, individual smartphones, or inertial guidance systems.

In the absence of APIs and interfaces that let this information be plugged into the GPS environment, what happens instead is that others (for example Google and Apple) take the GPS data and try to supplement it with (say) Wi-Fi base station locations.

The paper proposes instead that the individual components of GPS (image below) could be decomposed to allow competing systems to slot into each layer of GPS 2.0.

This would come from the creation of an “open source PNT”, which would “distribute PNT over many devices, technologies and phenomenology” (the latter referring to the phenomena that lies beneath timing, such as atomic clocks).

Another piece of the GPS 2.0 proposal is to give users something analogous to the signal strength indicator they get for mobile signals. That way, the end user can tell (for example) whether a system is operating at degraded accuracy, or even in the presence of a suspected jammer.

Project Sextant's authors say a new, independent body should be put in charge of evaluating and coordinating alternative PNTs for critical applications.

More at Breaking Defense here. ®

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