Navigating without GPS

Satellite navigation has become an integral part of our everyday lives. When driving a car or when making deliveries, we now rely blindly on determining the position from space. Currently available are the systems GPS (USA) and GLONASS (Russia), while Galileo (Europe) and Beidou (China) are still under construction.

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However, there are environments in which the satellite signal cannot be received – for example, in warehouses, forests, tunnels or mines. Here, only a tracking system that works without satellite can help. This is exactly what the Institute for Optical Sensor Systems of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) has developed: Integrated Positioning System (IPS) is the name of the solution that was awarded the Innovation Award Berlin Brandenburg at the end of 2018. It can precisely determine one’s own position without prior knowledge of the environment and without external reference points.

The human sense of direction as a model

As a model, the DLR engineers use the human sense of direction. They imitate the sense of sight and balance with the aid of a stereo camera and an inertial measuring unit that detects accelerations. It is also possible to connect additional sensors to the system. The sensor data are combined and then provide the position and the position in the room. And with astounding accuracy: IPS delivers in real time the location to 0.1 percent of the distance covered.

“With the system, for example, industrial plants or mines can be inspected, but also autonomous driving can be supported,” explains project manager Dr. Ing. Anko Börner from the DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems. In the future, systems such as IPS should play an important role in safety-relevant applications on Earth, but also in research missions on foreign planets. “They are in a sense the technical eye and provide comprehensive and valuable data,” said Börner. “Just as the eye is the most important sensory organ for humans, optical systems are the primary sensor for environmental detection of technical devices.”

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Possible applications in the logistics industry

Börner also sees applications in logistics: “Warehouses generally do not have GPS reception, and it can be very costly to equip them with WiFi antennas for navigation. With the IPS, it’s enough to just equip the vehicles with the technology – which is in many cases easier. “

In general, the need for such solutions in logistics is great. “The location of goods, people and material handling brings immense benefits: goods can be localized faster and the next available forklift can be determined automatically, and it is also possible to avoid collisions between man and machine,” says Thomas Reppahn, Head of  Logistics Product and Process Management at Schenker Deutschland AG. “Since GPS does not work because of the lack of contact with the satellites, this deficiency has, so far, been solved with elaborate transmitters and appropriate sensors. Innovations in this area could lead to reduced investment in infrastructure and are very interesting. “

“#Positioning without the help of satellites: The @DLR_de das developed a #navigation system for buildings and mines. It is also suitable for #logistics, for example, in #warehouses.“

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First pilots

There are already the first test applications of IPS, for example the DMT PILOT 3D for precise positioning and orientation, navigation and 3D documentation. The mobile handset is to be used in mining, ship inspection, construction and infrastructure projects, but also in forestry and surveying in seismology. In ship inspections, for example, it is used to take and automatically position inspection photos in a previously created 3D computer model of the ship.

DB Schenker at transport logistic in Munich

4-7 June – Hall B6, Booth 209/310