Anastasios Mourikis is working to overcome the limitations of GPS by developing algorithms that will use cameras, gyroscopes and accelerometers to provide navigation in areas that the system’s satellites cannot detect.

Mourikis, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the Bourns College of Engineering at UC Riverside, has received a three-year, US$447,000 Federal National Science Foundation grant to extend his work on navigation in robotics to smaller systems.

GPS, according to Mourikis, does not work indoors, underwater or in space. His open-source software algorithms, which will eventually be made available for all users on the Web to allow for crowdsourced testing, will help provide navigation that can be customized based on what type of application a developer wants to create to navigate in those areas out of GPS’ reach.

Mourikis envisioned it being particularly useful in life-or-death emergencies. “Rescuers could use the technology in cameras connected to their helmets in order to see into a mine or building after a catastrophe,” he said.

Robots have been using this sort of technology for years, but those are massive systems. Mourikis wants to create a building block that will allow the technology to be used on a small-scale device, like a cell phone, and not drain the battery more than an average application would.

His work is focused on cell phones because they have inexpensive cameras, inexpensive computing power and limited battery life. He hopes in three to four years to have a working algorithm and application that can be customized.

In addition to assisting in rescue missions, this technology could help the visually impaired navigate indoors. There are applications that have step-by-step audio directions for these individuals, but they are GPS-based, thus suffering from the same limitations other GPS devices have.

For consumers, Mourikis saw this as being an application that can assist large department stores in their desire to create applications for in-store maps to help people navigate the store. This is something he said will be worked on further down the line, based on market trends and demand.

In addition to crowdsourcing, Mourikis plans to collaborate with the Bourns College of Engineering’s Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program to work with K-12 students.

“This will not only be useful for mobile phones. The algorithms will adapt to whatever hardware [developers have access to],” said Mourikis. “Each system has certain characteristics, [and this research will help] leverage them in the best way possible.”