Global positioning system (GPS) satellites are great for getting around and looking up directions and smartphones and tablets, but they are controlled by the US Defense Department, which has degraded public signals in the past, and one European art student thinks that an open source alternative based on ground vibrations would be better.
Philipp Ronnenberg, a masters student in design interactions at the Royal College of Art in London, recently showed off the first prototype sensors for his alternate "Open Positioning System," which are designed to pick up regular seismic waves given off by large machinery in nearby power plants and factories. Once a sensor detects at least three different nearby seismic wave sources, Ronnenberg theorizes it should be able to determine its location.
an open source alternative based on ground vibrations
So far, he's built a prototype sensor using the Arduino open source hardware microcontroller, which he says "can detect and collect different frequencies." The project is currently in its infancy and Ronnenberg is seeking input from other interested beta testers on the Open Positioning System website. However, it's unclear how serious Ronnenberg is about the viability of the project, as his previous work includes a Google Street View hoax called "Forestview".
Whether or not Ronnenberg's ideas move beyond the conceptual stage, there is an active effort to create a viable alternative to GPS. The US military, for one, is pursuing a secure, nonpublic movement-based location system to be used specifically in combat situations without fear of losing signal or getting jammed by enemies. Another system based on radio waves, Navsop, is being developed by a UK defense company. But with GPS the go-to choice for today's mobile devices, any alternate system will need to demonstrate clear advantages if it hopes to catch on.