GPS-Like Device For Space Created By OSU Researchers

Listen to the Story

A researcher demonstrates a new GPS-like system created by OSU researchers(Photo: OSU Engineering School)
A researcher demonstrates a new GPS-like system created by OSU researchers(Photo: OSU Engineering School)

Despite the end of Nasa’s shuttle program, space exploration will move into a new phase with the help of Ohio State University researchers. They’ve come up with a technique similar to a GPS that works in space and on earth. The system is designed to safely guide astronauts and aid disaster relief workers.

The next frontier for astronauts could be heading to asteroids that orbit the sun. Researchers at Ohio State’s Civil and Environmental Engineering School are confident they have found a way to make the journey easier. They’ve created what’s called a Lunar Astronaut Spatial Orientation and Information System, or LASOIS. Assistant Professor Alper Yilmaz says it’s a personal navigation system that helps reduce disorientation that occurs when gravity changes in space.

“The problem with the asteroids is asteroid is constantly turning and it’s well, earth is turning, but we don’t feel it, asteroid is turning and they will feel it. So, there’s constant turning and there’s constant change of visual information,” said Yilmaz.

Yilmaz explains a prototype for LASOIS was developed over 3 years with a $1.2 million grant from NASA. It includes two cameras hooked up to a chest bar to record the astronauts movement, a step pressure sensor mounted outside of one boot to measure speed and acceleration of feet, and a third camera mounted on a helmet.

“This is a stand-alone system, it doesn’t rely on the GPS. So what it does is it looks at the environment and the cameras actually map the environment like our eyes, it generates the 3D environment, the 3D surrounding,” said Yilmaz.

The researcher wearing the equipment can monitor the sensor data in real-time on a device mounted on his wrist.

Researchers participated in March in field experiments in Hawaii on volcanic terrain, which has conditions similar to the surface of other planets.

“This unit measures the speed of the person, so based on the speed if you know where you started, based on the speed in all of these different directions, x,y,z directions, you will be able to find your position,” explained Yilmaz.

Graduate student Jinwei Jiang is proud of the team’s accomplishment.
“Finally we have some good results with both systems, the software works and I get good results which I feel very proud of it,” Jiang said.

While the device was designed for deep space exploration, it also has down to earth applications.

Assistant Professor Yilmaz says LASOIS can be developed for emergency workers like firefighters to rescue fire victims in smoky buildings or find earthquake survivors trapped in collapsed structures. It can also be used to locate coal miners buried in mine disasters.

“If any one of these systems go off line, the other systems will be able to take care of the solution again. So it’s like each one of these systems alone can provide a solution. When they come together they provide a better solution, said Yilmaz.

Researchers say the project will take several more years to complete.