Goodbye GPS? DARPA preparing alternative position-tracking technology

DARPA considers GPS unreliable, as it isn’t always available and signals can be easily jammed.


What takes this into a step change from evolution, is that’s what it is, is the use of ordinary every day objects. Whether it is revolutionary or evolutionary may be something they don’t share for now if it is about getting an edge on military opponents.

A key issue is the cost of technology. When I got my first in-car navigation system, the NASA designed gyros and accelerometers which gave me high accuracy put the retail price tag at around US$4,500. I didn’t lay for it, part of my job was the launch of these systems in New Zealand.

Our mapping car however had a system which was also large and bulky and in the region of $200,000 and the reason was that it had to be accurate to within 15cm even when no GPS was available, because being down at the bottom of the planet, the spread of GPS signals was not designed to cover all of our country down at the bottom of the planet.

Today the use of assets or Points of Interest can be valuable, but of course there are questions about how permanent those assets are. Systems like iBeacons make a lot of sense. After all it worked for Hansel and Gretel. Passive RF devices can be placed pretty much anywhere, they can be dropped on or into dirt, placed on buildings and can provide breadcrumbs anywhere. As long as you have the technology to know where they were placed, they can work for a long time because some of those technologies only consume power of significance when they are activated.

When they talk about TV, I wonder if that is designed to put us off the scent or whether they are talking about Internet connected or smart TV’s because they, being effectively WiFi access points therefore are transmitting a unique signature.

Google got itself into hot water by tracking WiFi signals from people’s home WiFi transmitters which also have a unique signature and aren’t likely to move very often, therefore if DARPA uses technology to map the location of those access points (they don’t need to spy on what is being communicated across them, all they need is a unique identity of a fixed router, whether it is in an office, a public device on a street or in a home. Triangulate those unique mapped signatures in an urban area  and you will have pretty good accuracy. Telcos have been doing this and improving on it for years. It’s much cheaper for them than GPS, which requires either legislation or informed permission from consumers, which is typically only given for the purposes of the apps they are using. Then there is GPS assisted tracking which is probably what DARPA are using. It doesn’t replace GPS altogether because there are inherent safety elements to GPS and typically other technologies, such as those we used in our mapping cars were still based on starting each day with a highly accurate GPS fix. From there we could function without it for long periods of time. More satellites are going up and jamming them or using EMP bombs on a satellite is likely to be more difficult.

The consumer will ultimately benefit from these technologies if we are serious about driverless cars. Cars that navigate themselves without a human sanity check solely based on GPS will fail, even in urban canyons where the signals bounce of he glass and metal foundations on urban buildings. Have you ever sat at a red light in a city and had your nav act as though you were still moving and instinctively pressed a bit harder on the brake pedal?

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Mawson Lakes: Police arrest two boys with machetes after they allegedly steal car fitted with GPS tracking device

TWO teenage boys were allegedly found with machetes in a stolen car after SA Police tracked their every movement using a GPS system fitted to the vehicle.


Have I ever told you I love these stories? A question for you. Do you have a where’s my phone app installed on your mobile?

Here’s a thought about vehicles. With vehicle tracking devices now being available for less than $100 if  you buy enough of them, why don’t insurance companies give them to you as part of your insurance package? It could be limited to cars over a certain value, but simply  means of shared risk. Whenever a car is reported stolen, it s tracked, governed or disabled, depending on how fast it is going and where, and reported to the police complete with it’s current location. Why not even lock the doors so that the thieves are stuck in the car until the police arrive. Yes I understand there are safety risks to those people who accidentally found themselves driving a car that didn’t belong to them, but you could use the technology that alerts you when you aren’t wearing your seat-belts, to lock the belts from opening as well, that way they can’t hurt themselves, although they could cut themselves out with their machetes.

With so many new cars coming out with GPS based technology, hopefully it will become increasingly more difficult to steal them, although given stories I have heard about sophisticated crooks able to hack the key-less entry systems, particularly of top of the line cars, they are going to need to get smarter.

So the last question is, who has more to lose if your car gets stolen, you or your insurance company. Perhaps it depends on how easy your car (and the things in it) are to replace.

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Posted in Car theft, GPS Tracking, insurance | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Spanish cities renamed after Islamic kingdoms in Google Maps prank –

Unknown Google Maps users altering names of Spanish towns to reflect their former status as Islamic kingdoms


As I have said in a hundred blogs or more, maintaining a national accurate map data-set is a costly exercise. It takes time, local knowledge, a lot of relationships and a passion for your country.

It has been interesting spending 8 years in one of those companies to see on one side, staff working really hard to get every single street name right, or making sure the speed zone or intersection controls are accurate and current, mapping road centre lines to sub 15cm with a car that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then having major brands of car navigation and fleet management putting the squeeze on price so they can sell their product for a pittance.

When you devalue knowledge or provide open source access to modifying the core data, without expert checking, or it is managed by people who do not live in a country, or have a local customer advocacy focus, you have risk. In the car navigation and Fleet Management industries that risk is brand (or expensive tax or insurance audits) , and can end up being very expensive for the consumer who paid $99 for the device.

There are multiple edges to open source data. What level of information are you willing to accept from total strangers and build into your critical data set? This example demonstrates that not all contributors are benign.

We have some wonderful people who help with data and really want to do good work, just for the sake of being a contributing citizen. Others may want to pull pranks or have a bit of fun, which is fine if it is corrected in time, but there are others with more sinister objectives and maps have of course been a military tool for disinformation for millennia.

Whatever the cause behind the people who changed the names of Spanish towns to reflect their former Islamic status, it exposes a weakness in the management of curated tools, especially when people rely on them for accuracy to run business, to travel, to manage their lives. That’s why local mapping companies are so important. As they disappear, so do years of passion, commitment and experience.

I’m not criticizing the model or Google. I doubt there is a day in my year that I don’t use a Google map. I’m just suggesting that here are inherent dangers that can’t be mitigated by simply revoking someone’s account. How long does it take to set up a new Google account?

If you are working in open data, there are degrees of open and I suggest that you add some form of vigilance early in the process. Is near enough good enough? What are the risks to your customers, to your reputation? How do you ensure that your data product can be presented as consistently accurate and reliable?

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Posted in Apps, Car Navigation, Fleet Management, Google maps, Map data, Open Data | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

ESPLORIO An online social media travel diary – Geographical

Esplorio is an online travel diary that brings together Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Foursquare and several other social networks.


On my last road trip I made extensive use of Foursquare to track where I had been over a 4,000 mile journey across 4 states. It was incredibly useful because I had taken so many photos on my mobile and I didn’t have location working on my camera, it was all but impossible to identify which photos I had taken where.

I bought a couple of travel diary apps, but because I was an FIT and spent many evenings looking for accommodation, deciding on attractions to visit (most of the state tourism operators still do tourism guide books, not apps) ans negotiating on accommodation, writing a diary in one of the beautiful applications was just more than I could deal with.

The photos and check ins worked a treat, but then I still had to deal with working through them all. So I was very pleased to find Esplorio before I leave for my next trip, especially because it links multiple social media apps together.

I installed it this morning before work and it took me all of about 2 minutes to link half a dozen social media accounts and hey presto it showed me where I had been yesterday. Now the main thing I need to focus on is having fun and collecting my favorite shots as I did last time to print a photo book of my trip.

There is suggestion that in future it will also offer travel information around the locations you go to which is welcome because I am looking for new places to see and new things to do. Foursquare and Swarm are pretty good at that, but I don’t want to miss out on anything.

If you want a travel diary but can’t be bothered making entries because you want to experience your trip while you are on it. Check this one out. It’s free.

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Farmers of the future will utilize drones, robots and GPS – Phys.Org

Today’s agriculture has transformed into a high-tech enterprise that most 20th-century farmers might barely recognize.


Thus the race continues. We have this paradox with humanity that through our management (perhaps an oxymoron) of the planet’s ecology, we live longer. That is those of us who can afford food. We know we can’t sustain the global growth in human population. We have tried GM, we use more modern technologies for every aspect of the process and this is just another leap forward. My biggest concern is that every step on this process removes the human labor element, which displaces people who can no longer pay for the food they buy, because they can no longer get jobs growing it.

If we lived in the utopia I was promised as a youth, we wouldn’t have to work, but our desire for power and a lifestyle that is measured by assets and financial wealth makes it near impossible to come up with systems that redistribute resources including equal opportunities for health, education and opportunity.

We went from horse to tractor to automation of so many aspects of agriculture, at least where farms are big enough and the education is available for those who can afford it to use it. Great if you are a giant and this technology will level the playing field for western agricultural producers who have farms large enough to justify it.The costs will be significantly less.

This is not science fiction dear reader. In the past I worked for a company that pioneered such technology for the forestry industry. Using light aircraft it could count trees from the sky, genus type them and even report on their health. It also had technology from the ground that could scan a tree and tell you how much harvest-able timber each tree contained. Unfortunately the industry went into a nosedive and many companies couldn’t afford the technology.

Today even small farms (by western standards) use GPS daily in farm management, but there is still the element of how much an experienced farmer, vs farm hands and casual labor can cover on motorcycles, horses, tractors and SUV’s. Many farms share equipment and  technology and often a contractor will develop a specialty and provide that service to others. The concepts here will work well and increase yield and production, enabling us to feed more people.

But what about the 3rd world. If we could enable farmers in small villages in Africa, Asia, South America with technology like this, we could up production and feed more people. This would be great for the ecology, for the planet in so many ways from providing healthy food, to greater production of bio-fuels, to balancing the planetary ecosystem.

The fatal flaw that I don’t see being answered anywhere is the rampant population growth will escalate. We may delay the tipping point on climate change, we may improve the standard of living all over the globe, but we will also promote even more rapid growth of population. That can’t go on for ever. There are always other planets, but I can’t see us getting to them in a hurry and unless we invent new means of mass transit across great distances, that might mean that the human race itself is not doomed, but it may not solve the problems on Earth. On that front we are our own worst enemies and as long as enough of us feel we have more rights, or are more right, than our fellow man, the clock continues to tick to our race’s impending doom.

In New Zealand there is a TV advertisement that says the planet doesn’t need us. It managed very well before humankind and will manage after we have moved on. What’s sobering to a thinking person is that this is a very true statement. Do you think birds and cockroaches care about OLED TV’s and self driving cars?

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Where to go for a tinkle for $1-5. Save time and money with free travel apps – The Seattle Times

Use apps to find last-minute hotels, free Wi-Fi hot spots, good happy hours and more.


Just when you think the topic of free travel apps has been done to death an article forces its way to your attention with a few apps you didn’t know about.

Ever been forced to change your plans and the deal you bought it on was no cancellations, no refunds? First of all, whenever I’ve had that situation, the property has been prepared to give me a credit or a some sort of a deal that means I don’t lose out entirely. If you make the phone calls and sincerely apologize with an explanation, most properties in the hospitality industry will do their best to help out. If you were a no show and didn’t tell them, thus making it impossible for them to reseller your room, well that’s a different story. So apparently the app Roomer allows you to resell that room to someone else.

WiFi Finder. I tend to be very weary of WiFi expect on my iOS devices, having had my account hacked by someone in China while I was in a hotel in Australia. But an app that tells you where to get free WiFi is great. Just make sure your device is well protected and if possible don’t do any banking, or financial transactions on those public places.

Happy Hour. I’m not so much into those any more, but they do happen all over the place as businesses look to up their patronage. Lets face it, with taxes and not being able to drink and drive, getting discounted drinks can go towards the taxi fare or simply get a good deal. I’m all for anything that encourages properties to offer good value for money. Just remember price isn’t everything.

My TSA. I like this. I travel a lot, some people don’t and there are still people who don’t understand that you can’t carry your family heirloom diamond studded nail file on-board the plane. You can’t carry large bottles of liquid in your check in luggage. I’ve seen people in tears over things they packed and can’t take on boars. It’s great to have an app that tells you what you can and can’t take.

Best Parking. In the world of travel information, we know that car park availability is very important and when motorists drive around in circles after finding that the park nearest to their destination is full, it causes stress and traffic congestion as they drive around in circles trying to find a park. So it is great to have an app to tell you where the best parks are, my TomTom does that too, but what I really want to know is where is the nearest to my destination, do they have parks available, what do they charge and what time do they close?

Last one out of this list, which is great but perhaps a little scary, Air PNP. That’s right, places where people will let you use their conveniences and have a tinkle. This raises the security hackles around my neck, but we have all been in situations where we had to go in a hurry right? I had a woman knock on my door one Christmas who was playing bagpipes in a Santa parade and desperately needed to go. It turned out she was also a police officer, which made me feel a bit better about having a total stranger use my bathroom, but I’m not sure about people who advertise, come and have a tinkle at my place for $2. How about you?

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Posted in Toilet Map, Travel Apps, Travel Information, WiFi Finder | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Government Orders GPS Installation in All Cabs Plying in Delhi

The Delhi Taxis’ Union has threatened to launch a series of protest if government does not withdraw its decision immediately.


So here we go again. A couple of years ago they said that all rickshaws should have GPS, but it transpired that the operators could not afford the cheapest solution available and if I remember correctly, it was too expensive.

My questions though are about how this will protect women passengers. Will there be a panic switch that the passenger in danger can access easily. The location would need to be clearly marked and the driver would of course know where that location is. The driver also would need a panic switch in case of an accident or incident where they themselves are in danger. If they have radios, they may already have that feature without the location information. Traditional taxi alarms hold the communications channel open so that the call centre can hear everything being said in the can and the driver then only needs to make some sort of comment about where they are or where they are going.

The GPS devices, can be very low cost. Vodafone for example could provide devices in volume that connect to the ODB2 port in the taxi for well under $US100, complete with built in SIM Card. The extras would be the means of triggering the alarm (software and hardware) and an annual SMS subscription fee.

A smart taxi company would just invest in them, make sure they vet their staff very well, have a monitoring system in place that checks that all devices on taxis that are working, can be seen on a map, then market aggressively saying that they are a safe company for passengers to drive with. They could even get Government Support in this marketing as a reward for being the first cab off the rank with this service.

The risk, which is why it needs to be monitored in real time is that a taxi driver doing something or being somewhere they shouldn’t, s likely to interfere with the GPS antenna. As in previous blogs I have given the example of people who wrapped their GPS antenna in aluminum foil, blocking the signal of the GPS. We were however onto that trick and consistent offenders no longer work for that company.

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Posted in GPS Tracking, Public Transport, taxi | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment