Beyond the Mapping Frenzy: Driverless Cars Will Depend on Highly Accurate GPS

The current money in the driverless car market is on mapping. Maps will play a key role in helping automated vehicles determine their exact location by comparing their sensor outputs (what they see) to this mapping data (what they should expect to see). With Uber spending $500M to create its own maps, Nokia’s HERE maps selling to Audi, BMW and Mercedes for $3B and Google spending undisclosed amounts to map the world, it seems like those with the best maps will win. When you dig below the mapping frenzy, though, there’s another piece of technology that has to go right for the driverless car market to happen. That’s centimeter-accurate GPS.

Pushing the Boundaries on Accuracy and Economics

Today’s autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles stay in their lanes and change lanes by relying on a suite of sensors consisting of cameras, lasers, and radar. These sensors determine what lane the car is in and are typically sensitive enough to determine where in the lane it is. But these sensors also require visual features, especially lane markings, to operate. So when the sun is setting and blinding their view, or when it’s snowing and everything looks the same, today’s sensors often break down and are no longer able to determine their lane whereabouts. Current sensors enable a vehicle to accurately navigate without human intervention about 95% of the time in pre-mapped areas. Although this may seem extraordinary, it is simply not good enough for driverless cars. That’s where centimeter-accurate GPS comes in. Through its ability to determine where the vehicle is to within 10 centimeters (about four inches), despite poor weather or the absence of lane markings, this technology is a must to achieve the safety levels needed for so-called Level 4 automation, where the car self-drives all the time and human intervention is strictly optional.

In addition, centimeter-accurate GPS will also underpin the economics needed to scale the mapping that supports these vehicles. Today’s mapping solutions are not only expensive to acquire – they are incredibly costly to implement. Fleets of vehicles equipped with specialized sensors are driving around cities to map them. This is unsustainable since roadways are constantly changing and companies like Google, Tesla and Uber would need to re-map cities every few months to keep their maps up-to-date. Because of this, mapping will eventually become crowd-sourced: the same sensors that our future automated vehicles will use to navigate by comparing what they see to these pre-made maps will simultaneously be used to update the maps. However, stitching together maps from million of vehicles will quickly become overwhelming unless algorithms know exactly where to put the data within the larger scale map and how much to trust data from each source. With centimeter-accurate GPS, each vehicle can attach its precise position and precise orientation at the time the data was taken to its mapping data. This will make map curation significantly easier than if these data were instead only stamped with meter-level accuracy that comes from standard GPS. This will allow map curation algorithms to distinguish good data from bad data: cars with better accuracy will have their data trusted more than vehicles with less accuracy.

From the Farm to the Car

Centimeter-accurate GPS is already in use today for applications like farming and surveying, but it requires expensive, purpose-built equipment. A couple of years ago, University of Texas professor Todd Humphreys and three graduate students discovered how to make this technology run almost entirely in software and on smartphones, thereby making it available to the consumer market. Ken Pesyna was honored as a Marconi Society Young Scholar for this work and he continues to be at the forefront of this technology with his company, Radiosense. Radiosense is bringing this highly accurate GPS capability to the suite of sensors that will become common in driverless vehicles. Through its software-based solution, Radiosense is able to provide a low-cost system capable of running on a vehicle’s existing computing platform.

Getting to Centimeter Accuracy

However, as with all new technologies, there are a couple of key challenges to be solved for centimeter-accurate GPS to be brought to the mass market.

In order to know where it is, a vehicle must connect to and difference its GPS measurements from those of a known reference station. To quickly get centimeter-level accuracy, a network of these reference stations, spaced by 20-to-50 kilometers, will be required. Radiosense has partnered with The University of Texas to create a low-cost, first-of-its-kind dense reference network in Austin. About 12 stations have been deployed, at $1000 each, to cover the entire city. The build-out of these networks will likely start in metro areas, such as Austin, and expand over time.

Additionally, centimeter-accurate GPS coverage in downtown environments is more difficult because the whole sky is frequently not visible. In order to provide centimeter-accuracy when the sky is partially blocked, companies like Radiosense are testing combinations of sensors, such as vision sensors that track nearby building facades as the vehicle moves, to make up for the lack of GPS signals. These sensors help provide information about how far the vehicle has traveled during periods in which there are not enough signals to compute a standalone GPS position. This is also where highly accurate maps come into play. It is very easy for a vehicle to recognize pre-mapped points of interest in feature-rich urban areas and use these to triangulate its position.

Despite the hype, it will be a slow transition from what we have now to fully-driverless cars. While today’s vehicles can warn us if we are drifting out of our lane or getting too close to another vehicle, the next generation will pull the car back into line if the driver does not respond to an audible warning. The jury is still out on whether we’ll get to mass use of driverless cars through incremental improvements, like those that Tesla is bringing to market, or through a huge technology leap with a whole new type of vehicle, as Google is developing. Either way, the next generation of highly accurate GPS will provide technology that is imperative for this market to scale.

Marconi Symposium and Awards

October 2nd, Washington D.C.
Marconi Symposium and Awards,
honoring Arogyaswami Paulraj,
2014 Marconi Fellow

Symposium – IT 2025: Boom or Bust?”
National Academies of Engineering and Science Building. Advance registration required.
Awards Dinner – 6:00 p.m. cocktails, 7:00 p.m. dinner: Honoring A. Paulraj and the 2014 Paul Baran Young Scholars.
Speakers will include Bob Lucky, Marty Cooper, Vint Cerf, Len Kleinrock, Bob Kahn, John Cioffi, Joseph Kakande, Dan Kaufman, Helmut Bölcskei, Dennis Roberson, Janice Obuchowski, Joan Marsh, David Goldman, Tom Marzetta and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

July 16 Bob Lucky, Joseph Kakande & Chris DiBona Creating Centers of Excellence. The Fourth Marconi Expertise Webinar Register here. (No charge)

2013 Marconi Prize Goes To Cellphone Pioneer Martin Cooper

2013 Marconi Prize Goes To Cellphone Pioneer Martin Cooper

Wireless visionary reshaped the concept of mobile communication

Forty years to the day after he helped launch the age of portable mobile telecommunications, the Marconi Society has announced that Martin Cooper is the recipient of the 2013 Marconi Prize, considered the pinnacle honor in the field of communication and information science.

Mr. Cooper, a wireless visionary and serial entrepreneur, is credited with developing and popularizing the concept of the handheld mobile phone. He led the talented team that put Motorola at the forefront of a burgeoning new industry. In the process, he helped reshape and point the global telecommunications industry in a new direction.

The Marconi Prize, which he will receive at a ceremony this fall in Bologna, Italy, is given each year to one or more scientists and engineers who – like radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi – achieve advances in communications and information technology for the social, economic and cultural development of all humanity. Winners have included scientists whose breakthrough innovations underlie every aspect of modern communications and have contributed to many other fields of technology. They include “fathers of the Internet” Paul Baran, Vint Cerf, Robert Kahn, Leonard Kleinrock, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Bob Metcalfe; encryption pioneers Whit Diffie, Martin Hellman and Ron Rivest; Internet search engine pioneers Larry Page and Sergey Brin; DSL modem inventor John Cioffi; and breakthrough fiber optics scientists such as Nobel Laureate Sir Charles Kao, Sir David Payne, Bob Tkach and Andrew Chraplyvy. Mr. Cooper follows wireless communication trailblazers Irwin Mark Jacobs (co-founder of Qualcomm) and Henry Samueli (Broadcom co-founder) who received the Prize in 2011 and 2012, respectively, as well as his mentor, former Motorola CEO Robert W. Galvin, who received a Marconi Society Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Mr. Cooper’s selection for the Marconi Prize is extraordinarily apt, according to Marconi Chairman Sir David N. Payne, the 2009 Prize winner. “Like Marconi himself, Marty had to overcome innumerable challenges,” says Dr. Payne. “In the 60s and 70s when he first set out to create a truly mobile wireless phone, there weren’t even any cordless phones on the market. Low drain digital circuits were just being developed. Even most of the industry leaders didn’t see much of a market for a personal, portable mobile phone. But Marty’s visionary pursuit of portable wireless communication changed the course of wireless communications.”

“What makes Marty unique is his rare combination of technical knowledge, engineering skill, and marketing vision,” said Henry Samueli, last year’s Marconi Prize recipient. “His revolutionary invention of the mobile phone created a remarkable industry which today impacts virtually every person on the planet. It is very fitting that he is receiving the Marconi Prize.”

Mr. Cooper says he was born to be an engineer. “From my earliest remembrances I had to know how things worked. I never had any doubt my career would be about technology,” he says. After graduating from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 1950, he served in the U.S. Navy as a submarine officer during the Korean War. When he returned, he earned his Master’s degree from IIT in electrical engineering. He later taught at IIT and now serves as a life trustee of the university.

His first job was at Teletype Corporation. He left to join Motorola in 1954, at a time when Mr. Galvin, son of the company founder, was transforming Motorola from a car radio manufacturer into a global technology leader. Starting as a senior development engineer in the mobile equipment group, he eventually grew to become a corporate vice president and founded the division that became Motorola Mobility, now owned by Google. Mr. Cooper introduced products that were precursors to cellular phones—including the first city-wide radio pagers in 1970 and the first cellular-like portable handheld police radio systems in 1967.

“Motorola was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me,” Mr. Cooper says. “If you wanted to change society it was the place to be. In 1965 I was given a new assignment to head the Portable Products Group. We had one over-riding belief: that people are inherently mobile, and that their mobile devices could not be too small or too light. We created the technologies that optimized size and weight.”

At the time, AT&T, which invented the concept of cellular technology, was investing heavily in their own vision of the future of mobile communications—car phones—and was already lobbying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for exclusive spectrum rights. In 1972 the FCC announced it was about to make a decision and it seemed likely AT&T would be granted a monopoly.

All that changed on April 3, 1973, when, standing on a street corner in New York City, Mr. Cooper demonstrated Motorola’s handset prototype to a reporter by making the first public phone call on the handheld cellular phone. His goal was to create public excitement about a revolutionary new concept in telecommunications: truly portable mobile phones that people could carry around and use to make calls any time, any place.

“I decided the only way to make an impression was to do a dazzling demonstration,” says Mr. Cooper. “What better way than this? My extraordinary team built the handset and a complete cellular system, just for the demonstration, and we took it to New York and to Washington to persuade our government that the time was ripe for true ‘personal communications.’ ” The publicity campaign worked beyond anyone’s expectations.

A decade of challenges lay ahead. “It took years for the technology to evolve,” says Mr. Cooper, “We were using frequency bands never used before; we were trying to develop large scale integrated circuits with low drain; and even the antenna had to be engineered. You can’t go from the lab to a commercial product overnight.”
He named the original handset the DynaTAC (DYNamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage). It was gigantic by modern standards, weighing in at 2.5 pounds, and measuring 10 inches long. People called it “the brick” or “the shoe”. Improved technology would soon shrink the massive battery needed to power the original phone and multiply battery life, but the original was still an impressive engineering feat.
More than the handset technology needed development. “Bell Labs and Motorola had to develop the equipment that made cellular systems more efficient than previous approaches. Plus, the FCC was tasked with the arduous and painfully slow challenge of selecting the competing cellular carriers,” Mr. Cooper says.

Once again, it was Motorola that tipped the balance. In 1980 Mr. Galvin was visiting Vice President George H. W. Bush and showed him Motorola’s handset model, mentioning the FCC’s delays. Bush told him to show the phone to President Reagan, who was enchanted. “That seemed to break the logjam, and by 1983 we had service,” says Mr. Cooper.

Between 1973 and 1983 Motorola poured more than $100 million into development without getting a nickel of revenue. “It takes an enlightened management to do that,” Mr. Cooper says.
Currently, Mr. Cooper is co-founder and Chairman of Dyna LLC, in Del Mar, California, one of the many successful entrepreneurial ventures he helped create in the 30 years since leaving Motorola. In addition to writing and lecturing around the world, his many board and committee commitments include The U.S. Department of Commerce Spectrum Advisory Committee and the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Technological Advisory Council. Among his many awards and honors was his inaugural induction into the WHF Wireless Hall of Fame and his receipt of the IEEE Centennial Medal. Mr. Cooper also was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering and was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Science and Technology in 2010.
He is proudest of his contributions to portable wireless communications, however. “The biggest problem our world faces is poverty,” he says. “The answer isn’t redistributing wealth—that would simply make most people poorer. The answer is improving productivity—and wireless has brought about massive improvements in productivity. From a village in India where a woman entrepreneur can rent out her cell phone to farmers so they can find the best price for their crops, to the ability to monitor individuals health status in real time, mobile communication is revolutionizing our world—and we are only just beginning.”

“Today, what Marty foresaw seems pretty elementary,” says Vint Cerf, vice chairman of the Marconi Society and himself a Marconi Prize winner. “But the idea of making telecommunications ‘person-centric’ instead of tied to a particular place—a car, home or telephone booth—caused a tectonic shift in the industry.”

Mr. Cooper will receive the $100,000 Marconi Prize at an awards dinner on October 1, 2013 in Bologna. He also will deliver the keynote address for a three-day conference preceding the awards gala, jointly sponsored by the Marconi Institute for Creativity and the Marconi Society. Information about the conference, which is open to the general public, will be available soon at


The Marconi Society was established in 1974 through an endowment set up by Gioia Marconi Braga, daughter of Guglielmo Marconi, the Nobel laureate who invented radio (wireless telegraphy). It is best known for the Marconi Prize, awarded annually to outstanding individuals whose scope of work and influence emulate the principle of “creativity in service to humanity” that inspired Marconi. Through symposia, conferences, forums and publications, the Marconi Society promotes awareness of major innovations in communication theory, technology and applications with particular attention to understanding how they change and benefit society.

Hatti Hamlin

AJ Paulraj, Andrea Goldsmith & Henry Samueli comment on MIMO, 5G and a remarkable wireless future


Register here. (No charge)

Mountain View, CA, February 6, 2014–“Remarkable Wireless Future: More Megabits Soon, Gigabits to Come”, will be the second “Marconi Expertise” webinar. The Webinar takes place March 6, 10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. New York, 6 p.m. London.

MIMO inventor A.J. Paulraj, Stanford Professor and entrepreneur Andrea Goldsmith & Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli will explain technology that will bring extraordinary gains in wireless speeds.

No one is better able to describe the future of mobile than Stanford Professor AJ Paulraj. He invented MIMO in 1993 (, a technology included in the iPhone5 and most current routers and mobile phones. He’s been working on gigabit wireless for more than a decade and is a leader in research for 5G wireless.

Henry Samueli, whose work led to the explosive growth of the consumer broadband industry, predicts a rapid evolution of wireless based on MIMO technology. “Smartphones will evolve to desktop computer performance levels within only a few years and by 2015 mobile Internet usage will overtake desktops with smartphones use growing four times faster than overall phone growth,” Samueli says. Samueli, the 2012 Marconi Prize winner, is co-founder and CTO of Broadcom, a world leading wireless chipmaker.

Goldsmith is working on massive MIMO systems, cognitive radio and green wireless system design. “The evolution of MIMO from broadband (10 Mb/s) to Gb/s rates should only be a matter of time as hardware for multichannel radio-frequency chains and digital signal processors become more affordable,” she says. Goldsmith founded Accelera, a company that creates wireless network virtualization technology, and Quantenna Communications, Inc. a leading developer of 802.11ac and 802.11n semiconductor solutions targeted at devices such as wireless set-top boxes, residential gateways video bridges, and other devices that deliver highly reliable broadband multimedia video and data services over Wi-Fi anywhere in the home.

“Deutsche Telekom is advertising LTE speeds of over 100 megabits and Sprint Spark in the U.S. is demonstrating speeds over 50 megabits,” says webinar moderator Dave Burstein, a technology writer and Editor of Fast Net News. “Networks around the world are testing speeds in the hundreds of megabits. Over the next few years those speeds will be available in many countries. Multi-antenna MIMO and carrier aggregation are delivering speeds five and ten times as fast as early LTE. 5G will take us even further, possibly within a decade.”

MIMO stands for “multiple-input and multiple-output, a technology that uses multiple antennas at both the transmitter and receiver to improve spectral effiiciency—meaning that more bits per second can be transmitted. It has become integral to modern wireless communication standards including 4G, 3GPP LTE (Long Term Evolution) and WiMAX. MIMO is now being applied to other communications technology with similar gains.

Register here. (No charge)

The webinar series “Marconi Expertise” is an initiative of the Marconi Society to bring the knowledge of the engineering leaders to today’s issues. The Marconi Fellows include many of the most honored engineers in the world. The second Webinar, featuring MIMO inventor and entrepreneur Arogyaswami Paulraj, takes place March 6th.

More details may be found at:

About the Marconi Society

The Marconi Society was established in 1974 through an endowment set up by Gioia Marconi Braga, daughter of Guglielmo Marconi, the Nobel laureate who invented radio (wireless telegraphy). Through symposia, conferences, forums and publications, the Marconi Society promotes awareness of major innovations in communication theory, technology and applications with particular attention to understanding how they change and benefit society. Additional information can be found

For more information about A.J. Paulraj, click here.

For more information about Andrea Goldsmith, click here.

For more information about Henry Samueli, click here.