In Bomb Alley, the winds can change in an instant. And then there are the rocks.
GPS is one of those science fiction technologies whose use is effortless for the end user and endlessly challenging for the engineers who design it. It’s now at the heart of modern life: everything from Amazon package deliveries to our cars and trucks to our walks through national parks are centered around a pin on a map that monitors us down to a few meters.
Yet, GPS technology is decades old, and it’s going through a much-needed modernization. The U.S., Europe, China, Japan and others have been installing a new generation of GNSS satellites (GNSS is the generic name for GPS, which is the specific name for the U.S. system) that will offer stronger signals in what is known as the L5 band (1176 MHz). That means more accurate map pinpoints compared to the original generation L1 band satellites, particularly in areas where line-of-sight can be obscured like urban areas. L5 was “designed to meet demanding requirements for safety-of-life transportation and other high-performance applications,” as the U.S. government describes it.
It’s one thing to put satellites into orbit (that’s the easy part!), and another to build power-efficient chips that can scan for these signals and triangulate a coordinate (that’s the hard part!). So far, chipmakers have focused on creating hybrid chips that pull from the L1 and L5 bands simultaneously. For example, Broadcom recently announced the second-generation of its hybrid chip.
OneNav has a totally different opinion on product design, and it placed it right in its name. Eschewing the hybrid chip model of mixing old signals with new, it wants one chip monitoring the singular band of L5 signals to drive cost and power savings for devices. One nav to rule them all, as it were.
The company announced today that it has closed a $21 million Series B round led by Karim Faris at GV, which is solely funded by Alphabet. Other investors included Matthew Howard at Norwest and GSR Ventures, which invested in earlier rounds of the company. All together, OneNav has raised $33 million in capital and was founded about two years ago.
CEO and co-founder Steve Poizner has been in the location business a long time. His previous company, SnapTrack, built out a GPS positioning technology for mobile devices that sold to Qualcomm for $1 billion in stock in March 2000, at the height of the dot-com bubble. His co-founder and CTO at OneNav Paul McBurney has similarly spent decades in the GNSS space, most recently at Apple, according to his LinkedIn profile.
They saw an opportunity to build a new navigation company as L5 band satellites have switched on in recent years. As they looked at the market and the L5 tech, they decided they wanted to go further than other companies by eliminating the legacy tech of older GPS technology and moving entirely into the future. By doing that, its design is “half the size of the old system, but much higher reliability and performance,” Poizner said. “We are aiming to get location technology into a much broader number of products.”
He differentiated between upgrading GPS from upgrading wireless signals. “With these L5 satellites, we don’t need the L1 satellites anymore [but] with 5G, you still need 4G,” he said. L5 band GPS does everything that earlier renditions did, but better, whereas with wireless technologies, they often need to complement each other to offer peak performance.
There’s one caveat here: the L5 signal is still considered “pre-operational” by the U.S. government, since the U.S. GPS system only has 16 satellites broadcasting the signal today, and is targeting 24 satellites for full deployment by later in this decade. However, other countries have also deployed L5 GNSS satellites, which means that while it may not be fully operational from the U.S. government’s perspective, it may well be good enough for consumers.
OneNav’s goal according to Poizner is to be “the Arm of the GNSS space.” What he means is that like Arm, which produces the chip designs for nearly all mobile phones globally, OneNav creates comprehensive designs for L5 band GPS chips that can be integrated as a system-on-chip into the products of other manufacturers so that they can “embed a high-performance location engine based on their silicon.”
The company today also announced that its first design customer will be In-Q-Tel, the U.S. intelligence community’s venture capital and business development organization. Poizner said that through In-Q-Tel, “we now have a development contract with a U.S. government agency.” The company is expecting that its customer evaluation units will be completed by the end of this year with the objective of potentially having OneNav’s technology in end-user devices by late 2022.
Location tracking has become a major area of investment for venture capitalists, with companies working on a variety of technologies outside of GPS to offer additional detail and functionality where GPS falls short. Poizner sees these technologies as ultimately complementary to what he and his team are building at OneNav. “The better the GPS, the less pressure on these augmentation systems,” he said, while acknowledging that, “it is the case though that in certain environments [like downtown Manhattan or underground in a subway], you will never get the GPS to work.”
For Poizner, it’s a bit of a return to entrepreneurship. Prior to starting OneNav, he had been heavily involved in California state politics. Several years after the sale of SnapTrack to Qualcomm, he unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the California State Assembly. He later was elected California’s insurance commissioner in 2007 under former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He ran for governor in 2010, losing in the Republican primary against Meg Whitman, who made her name as the longtime head of eBay. He ran for his former seat of California insurance commissioner in 2018, this time as a political independent, but lost.
OneNav is based in Palo Alto and currently has more than 30 employees.
Google has announced a series of updates soon coming to Google Maps, as part of the company’s larger goal of delivering over 100 A.I.-powered improvements to the platform by year-end. Among the new improvements, detailed during Google I/O’s developer conference this week, are new routing updates, Live View enhancements, an expansion of detailed street maps, a new “area busyness” feature, and a more personalized Maps experience.
The new routing updates will involve the use of machine learning and navigation information to help reduce “hard-braking moments” — meaning, those times when traffic suddenly slows, and you have to slam on your brakes.
Today, when you get your directions in Maps, Google calculates multiple route options based on a variety of factors, like how many lanes a road has or how direct the route is. With the update, it will add one more: which routes are least likely to cause a “hard-braking moment.” Google will recommend the route that has the least likelihood of those sorts of moments, if the ETA is the same or the difference is minimal between another route. The company says it expects this change could potentially eliminate 100 million hard-breaking events in routes driven with Google Maps every year.
Live View, Google Maps’ augmented reality feature launched in 2019, will soon become available directly from the map interface so you can instantly explore the neighborhood and view details about nearby shops and restaurants, including how busy they are, recent reviews and photos. It will also be updated to include street signs for complex intersections, and will tell you where you are in relation to places like your hotel, so you can make your way back more easily, when in unfamiliar territory.
Google will also expand the more detailed maps it first rolled out to last year to New York, San Francisco, and London. These maps offer more granularity, including both natural features and street info like the location of sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian islands, for example. The information can be particularly useful for those who navigate a city by foot, scooter, bike, or in a wheelchair.
By the end of 2021, these detailed maps will be available in 50 more cities, including Berlin, São Paulo, Seattle, and Singapore.
Another new feature expands on the “busyness” information Google already provided for businesses, based on anonymized location data collected by Maps users. During the pandemic, that feature became a useful way to avoid crowds at local stores and other businesses, for health and safety. Now, Google Maps will display “busyness” info for parts of town or neighborhoods, to help you either avoid (or perhaps locate) crowded areas — like a street festival, farmers’ market, or nightlife spot, among other things.
Finally, Google Maps will begin customizing its interface to the individual in new ways.
For starters, it may show relevant information based on the time of day where you are.
For instance, when you open the map at 8 AM on a weekday, you may see coffee shops more prominently highlighted, but at night, you may see dinner spots. If you’ve traveled out of town, Google Maps may instead show you landmarks and tourists attractions. And if you want to see more of the same, you can tap on any place to see similar places nearby.
Google says these features will roll out globally across iOS and Android in the coming months, but did not provide an exact timeframe for each specific feature. The more detailed maps will arrive by year-end, however.
He was a torchbearer for the celestial navigation art known as wayfinding, which ancestral Polynesian sailors used to navigate the Pacific Ocean.
Scientists have found that grizzlies, like people, seem to choose the path of least resistance.
Augmented reality and directions in the windshield: Integrated systems run (precise) laps around earlier technology, like a piano-roll device from the 1930s.
While some animals that rove in groups appear to cast a form of ballot about directions, goats mostly copy each other.
The system is essential but also vulnerable. We need a backup.
MIT has developed a new navigation system designed for use underwater that could do for underwater wayfinding what GPS has done for travel on and above the surface. GPS doesn’t really penetrate underwater, because radio waves aren’t really water-friendly. It’s why you commonly see things like sonar employed on submarines, which emit sound waves and measure their reflection off of other underwater objects and surfaces. Typical sonar and other acoustic signalling methods are power-hungry, however – which is why MIT’s new battery-free system has so much potential.
GPS is also a relatively power-efficient technology, which is part of the reason it has done so much to transform how we get around, from in-car navigation to maps on smartphones. The limitations of current underwater navigation technology has meant that we typically need to use large, quick-to-deplete battery packs to power sound generation and transmission devices. MIT’s system would replace all that with a new type of battery-free acoustic navigation systems that sues signals already found in the environment rather than creating its own.
The system works by employing piezoelectric materials, which generate an electric charge when hit with mechanical stress, including the strain resulting from a sound wave impacting against them. Researchers created a way from these sensors to translate sound wave information into binary code, which they used to measure things like the temperature of the surrounding ocean or its salt content, but they theorized that it could also be used to figure out location information.
That’s more complicated than it might appear rat first, because sound reflects off of various surfaces underwater and travels back at often unpredictable angles. But the research team was actually able to account for this with an approach called ‘frequency hopping’ and collecting information across a range of different wavelentghts. This was effective in deep water, and now they’re working on making it more effective in the even noisier environment of shallow water.
Ultimately, the system and future versions that are based upon the same technology could enable future robotic submarine explorers to better map the ocean floor, and perform all kinds of automated monitoring and sub-sea navigation.
Google-owned navigation app Waze is gaining a number of new product features as well as a partnership with Amazon Music, the company announced at its first major virtual event, Waze On. Among the changes, Waze is gaining personalized recommendations based on a user’s trip history, as well as traffic notifications, ETA improvements, lane suggestions, expanded Google Assistant integration, and more.
Waze’s trip suggestions are one of the more notable new features, as they tap into the Waze user’s historical driving patterns to make inferences about where the user may be headed to next. The feature, which will roll out next month, will be based on trips the user took in the past as well as the locations they’ve recently driven to, Waze says. The suggestions will offer the driver a visual overview of their trip, including details like the time the trip will take and the expected traffic.
Another new feature, traffic notifications, will alert users when traffic begins to build up or the driver risks being late on both favorite and frequent destinations, as well as one-time planned drives. These will also arrive next month, Waze noted.
Among the smarter improvements, is a new addition called Lane Guidance. As the name suggests, Waze will now be able to tell drivers what lane to be in when they’re merging or exiting a stretch of highway. This feature is rolling out now.
Waze also updated its ETA calculations in areas where there are fewer drivers — a reflection of the impact the pandemic has had on historical driving patterns. With some areas seeing fewer cars on the road due to companies’ embrace of remote work, Waze says it’s been harder to predict the changing flow of traffic. The update should help it take into account the reduction in traffic when making calculations in some areas.
In a much-needed update, users will now be able to save their itinerary for a planned drive directly to the Waze app from the Live Map feature on the web.
Waze has also expanded Google Assistant integration to French, Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Waze users.
The Waze Carpool service received a few updates, too. It now offers instant booking and auto approve features for drivers and riders. Drivers can also get real-time ride requests as they begin a drive, allowing them to pick up more riders along the way.
Amazon Music, meanwhile, joined the Waze Audio Player partner program, which allows Waze users to listen to third-party services from Waze’s audio player. Amazon Music users will be able to access the Waze app from the music app, as well. The audio program itself is not new. Waze already works with other music and audio partners, including Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, YouTube Music, Deezer, TIDAL, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, NPR One, Scribd, and others.
Waze at the event said it now sees over 140 million users worldwide per month contributing to the community by driving over 36 billion kilometers and reporting over 70 million incidents in 185 countries.
Garmin today is announcing a $999 GPS unit designed specifically for motorsports. Called the Garmin Catalyst the unit aims to be a motorsports coach of sorts, helping drivers improve lap times, and more. It’s the latest example of Garmin testing different markets now that GPS units are built-into most vehicles.
Like standard GPS units, the Catalyst mounts on the windshield and provides detailed maps for the driver. However, since this is for racing around tracks, instead of providing driving directions, the Catalyst is said to provide motorsports coaching with voice instructions and detailed analysis of the driver’s performance.
Adam Spence, Garmin product manager explains, “[The Catalyst] gathers several data metrics and identifies where laps can be seamlessly joined together to create the fastest racing line. This shows users their fastest achievable time based on lines actually driven and gives them an optimal lap they can truly achieve.”
The GPS unit uses a series of sensors and components to generate the car’s racing line on the track. The included camera captures 1080p video, which can be played back on the unit with the track data overlaid showing speed, lap data, and more.
When driving, the Catalyst is said to be able to provide adaptive instruction to the driver based on past driving laps, instructing the driver on when to turn in, apex, and exit turns along with braking data when needed. This information can playback through compatible headsets or the vehicle’s Bluetooth stereo.
Data and track information can be viewed on the device itself or exported to a mobile device or computer.
The system is the latest product from Garmin who is trying to bring its GPS know-how to niche markets. Previously, the company unveiled a similar unit for overlanding vehicles. Based on pictures, the Overlander and the Catalyst seem to use the same mounting hardware and have a similar design albeit the Overlander appears more rugged.
Google Maps is making it easier for bikeshare users to navigate their city with an update to Maps now rolling out across 10 major markets. Already, Google Maps could point users to bikesharing locations and it has long since offered cycling directions between any two points. The new update, however, will combine both walking and biking directions in order to provide end-to-end navigation between docked bikeshare locations.
That is, Google Maps will first provide detailed walking directions to your nearest bikeshare location before providing turn-by-turn directions to the bikeshare closest to your destination. It then offers the final leg of the trip between the bikeshare drop-off and your destination as walking directions.
Before, users planning to use a bikeshare would have to create three separate trips — one to the first bikeshare to pick up a bike, the second to the bikeshare drop-off point and then walking directions to their final destination. Now, you can plan this outing as one single trip in Google Maps in the supported markets.
In addition to the new end-to-end navigation, Google Maps in some cities will also display links that allow you to open the relevant bikeshare mobile app in order to book and unlock the bike.
The feature is rolling out over the weeks ahead in 10 cities, in partnership with transportation information company Ito World and supported bikeshare partners. These include the following markets:
- Chicago, U.S. (Divvy/Lyft)
- New York City, U.S. (Citi Bike/Lyft)
- San Francisco Bay Area, U.S. (Bay Wheels/Lyft)
- Washington, DC, U.S. (Capital Bikeshare/Lyft)
- London, England (Santander Cycles/TfL)
- Mexico City, Mexico (Ecobici)
- Montreal, Canada (BIXI/Lyft)
- Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (Bike Itaú)
- São Paulo, Brazil (Bike Itaú)
- Taipei and New Taipei City, Taiwan (YouBike)
Google says it’s actively working to add more partners to bring the functionality to more cities in the months ahead.
The launch of the new feature again one-ups Apple Maps, which recently announced it was catching up with Google Maps by adding a dedicated cycling option within Apple Maps that will optimize routes for cyclists. Apple’s new biking directions can even show if a route includes challenging hills or there’s a bike repair shop nearby, if desired.
Ito World also noted in March it had partnered with Apple to integrate bikeshare data into Apple Maps, allowing iPhone owners to find bikeshare locations across 179 cities.
But Google continues to offer more detailed bikeshare information in its Google Maps product, having over the years launched features like dockless bike and scooter integration with Lime in more than 100 cities and real-time docked bikeshare information in select cities to show availability of bikes for rent.
Offering better biking directions has become even more of a competitive product in recent months for mapping providers, due to the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on travel and transportation. Some commuters, for example, have shifted to using bikes for their trips instead of relying on public transportation, like buses and subways. Google notes this impact has also been reflected in growing worldwide search interest for phrases like “bike repair shop near me,” which hit an all-time high in July — more than double what it was last year.
The updated bikeshare navigation is rolling out in the coming weeks, says Google.
SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch is set to take place at 3:55 PM EDT (12:55 PM PDT), with a 15-minute window opening at that time, and there is a backup opportunity on Wednesday, July 1 if the launch needs to be pushed back for any time. This rocket is carrying a GPS III Space Vehicle, which is named “Katherine Johnson” after the NASA mathematician who played a fundamental role in Mercury, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.
The launch today will add another GPS III satellite to the U.S. Space Force’s existing in-space GPS assets, which include three already on orbit, with another one set to be deployed in 2022. This third-generation GPS satellite is three times more accurate, and eight times more resilient in terms of its ability to resist gaming efforts than prior versions. In addition to its use for military and defense applications, the GPS III satellite will also contribute to civilian GPS-based satellite navigation.
This launch will include a landing of the Falcon 9 booster, using SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” drone landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX has had a very busy launch schedule over the past month, including its historic first crewed spacecraft launch on May 30 with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board. It also subsequently launched two Starlink missions to add to its low Earth orbit broadband constellation, and had another planned for last week, which ended up having to be delayed until after this flight today.
The webcast will kick off above around 15 minutes prior to the launch time, so at around 3:40 PM EDT (12:40 PM PDT)
Crowdsourced navigation platform Waze, which is owned by Google and yet remains a separate, but intertwined product relative to Google Maps, just got one of its biggest UI and design overhauls ever. The new look is much more colorful, and also foregrounds the ability for individual drivers to share their current emotions with Moods, a set of user-selectable icons (with an initial group of 30) that can reflect how you’re feeling as you’re driving.
Moods may seem like a relatively small user-personalization option, but it’s actually a very interesting way for Waze to add another data vector to the crowdsourced info it can gather. In a blog post describing the feature, Waze Head of Creative Jake Shaw talks about the added Mood set, which builds upon the Moods feature previously available in Waze and greatly expands the set of expressible emotions.
“The fundamental idea of Moods has always been the same: to reflect how users feel on the road,” he wrote. “We had a lot of fun exploring the range of emotions people feel out there. A dozen drivers could all feel different in the exact same situation, so we set about capturing as many of those feelings as possible. This was critical to us, because the Moods act as a visual reminder of all of us out there, working together.”
Extending Moods to be more varied and personalized definitely has the advantage of being more visually appealing, and that could serve to boost its engagement among the Waze user community. They don’t mention this explicitly, but you can imagine that combining this as a sort of sentiment measure along with other crowd-reported navigational details, including traffic status, weather conditions, construction and more, could ultimately help Waze build a much richer data set and resulting analyses for use in road planning, transportation infrastructure management and more.
This update also includes a full refresh of all the app’s interfaces, using colored shapes based around a grid system, and new icons for reported road hazards. It’s a big, bright change, and further helps distinguish Waze’s visual identity from that of its sibling Google Maps, too.
Shaw talk repeatedly about the value of the voice of the community in informing this redesign, and it definitely seems interested in fostering further a sense of participation in that community, as distinct from other transportation and navigation apps. Oddly, this serves as a reminder that Google’s most successful social networking product, with the exception maybe of YouTube depending on how you define it, may well be Waze.
Scientists are hard at work recalibrating where and how the nation physically sits on the planet. It’s not shrinkage — it’s “height modernization.”
San Mateo-based startup Xona Space Systems has raised a $1 million “pre-seed” round led by 1517, and including participation from Seraphim Capital, Trucks Venture Capital and Stellar Solutions. The company is focused on developing a Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) satellite service that it believes can supersede Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), providing big benefits in terms of security, precision and accuracy.
Xona contends that GNSS, which is essentially the backbone of almost all global navigation software and services, is relatively imprecise, and open to potential disruption from malicious attackers. It’s a technology that was transformational in its time, but it’s not up to the challenge of meeting the requirements of modern applications, including autonomous vehicle transportation, drone fleets, automated ocean shipping and more.
The company is pursuing an ambitious goal: GNSS remains one of the most significant, broad and impactful space-based technologies ever to be developed. Its impact is apparent daily, from consumer applications like turn-by-turn navigation via mobile mapping apps, to industrial services like global logistics platforms. Anyone who can develop a credible next-generation alternative that modernizes and improves upon GNSS stands to gain a lot.
Xona’s approach promises tenfold improvements in terms of accuracy vs. GNSS, and encryption that can help provide much more security. The company has a patent pending on its ‘Pular’ branded PNT service, which will employ low Earth orbit satellites (vs. higher orbit current GNSS networks) to provide its next-gen navigation tech.