Published on November 2, 2023, 12:26 pm
Image source: Fox News
Zephr, a start-up company, has recently unveiled its revolutionary plan to enhance GPS accuracy without any hardware modifications. Many mobile devices currently have poor GPS accuracy, making it challenging for app developers in various industries, such as gaming and fitness tracking, to fully utilize the capabilities of smartphones. Zephr’s founders, Sean Gorman and Pramukta Rao, became acquainted with this issue while working on a visual positioning system for a corporate campus.
Typically, highly accurate differential GPS receivers called base stations are used to achieve centimeter-level accuracy by connecting to a network of other base stations and employing error correction techniques. However, Gorman and Rao realized that they were surrounded by an abundance of raw GPS data from people’s cell phones. This led them to question if it was feasible to use this data as a form of error correction by turning everyone’s phone into a base station.
Despite the potential benefits of using phone-generated satellite measurements for error correction, the challenge lies in the inadequate GPS accuracy of cell phones themselves. Urban areas pose even greater difficulties due to signal interference caused by buildings or line-of-sight issues.
Nevertheless, Zephr claims to have found a solution. The team consists of experts in mapping technology: Sean Gorman (former mapping engineering manager at Snap), Pramukta Rao (computer vision engineer at Snap), Kostas Stamatiou (co-founder of BlueSky Resources), and Scotty Nelson (senior data scientist at Twitter). Their solution involves directing a group of phones in a specific area to transmit their GPS measurements to satellites. A software server then calculates an error correction similar to that obtained from receiver base stations. The correction is sent back anonymously to the phones, significantly enhancing their GPS accuracy.
Remarkably, Zephr only requires 10-15 mobile devices within 10 kilometers of each other to improve GPS accuracy on each phone. This innovative approach has attracted significant attention from investors, leading to a $3.5 million seed funding round led by Space Capital and First Spark Ventures.
To validate their concept, Zephr collaborated with SRI International, a renowned research organization in Silicon Valley specializing in positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) as well as GPS. Testing at SRI confirmed the viability of Zephr’s idea and resulted in an investment from SRI Ventures. The team has proceeded with field testing using real-world cell phones and differential RTK-GPS systems for accuracy assessment. They are now preparing to conduct pilot tests utilizing a demo app that collects data and compares the GPS accuracy before and after improvement.
Zephr also has plans to customize its models for customers involved in mobile app development that utilizes GPS functionality. The company has received considerable interest from verticals such as rideshare services, location-based gaming, and advertisement technology. However, Zephr’s long-term goal is to capitalize on emerging markets like autonomy, robotics, and augmented reality where highly precise yet cost-effective positioning measurements are crucial.
By introducing this new positioning technology, Gorman believes that it could potentially replace or augment existing costly visual positioning systems such as those used by Google and Apple. Visual systems rely on mapping the entire world in 3D using fleets of street view vehicles and planes. In contrast, leveraging sensors for positioning eliminates the need for extensive pre-mapping efforts while reducing computational requirements.
With an ambitious growth plan aiming to expand its team to ten full-time members by year-end, Zephr is poised to disrupt the GPS industry with its innovative approach. By enhancing GPS accuracy through crowd-sourced measurements and error correction techniques, Zephr aims to unlock new possibilities for various industries dependent on reliable geolocation data.
Original article posted by Fox News