September 28, 2011      

An assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside, has received a three-year, $447,000 grant to develop techniques to navigate areas where GPS doesn’t work, such as indoors, underwater, and in space.

The work by Anastasios Mourikis, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the Bourns College of Engineering, can be used for navigation indoors by visually impaired people or emergency responders in a burning building or collapsed mine, and for small-scale drone surveillance by law enforcement and military personal. “This is a building block,” Mourikis says. “It can be used for many, many tasks.”

In recent years, navigation without GPS on large-scale systems, such as autonomous ground vehicles, has been extensively studied in the robotics research community and strong solutions have been developed. However, those solutions typically require large and costly computers and sensors, and use a lot of battery power.

The problem is that these algorithms can’t be used on a small-scale device, such as a cell phone, in part because if those algorithms were put on a cell phone, they would drain the battery very quickly.

Mourikis aims to change that. He plans to focus on cell phones because they are so common and many have cameras, which can be used for location finding when GPS is not available. Mourikis plans to develop algorithms that use the phones’ inexpensive cameras, computing power, and limited battery life. At the end of the three-year grant, Mourikis hopes to have a cell phone app that can provide accurate position information in areas where GPS is not available.

He plans to implement the algorithms using open-source software that will be made available on the Internet for users to install. This will enable the power of “crowd-sourcing” to test the methods in a large number of situations and accelerate wider adoption of the developed technology.