How GPS Technology Could Help Scientists Build a Holodeck

May 5, 2015

If you use your smartphone for directions, you know how annoying it can be when the tracking device gets your locations wrong. Now a team of researchers at the University of Texas’ Cockrell School of Engineering say they may have fixed that problem.

But there’s more: They also think they’ve brought a science fiction dream closer to reality.

In the space adventure series Star Trek canon, the holodeck was a room where the characters could create virtual worlds and interact within them.

Anything was possible. It provided the show with moments of adventure, entertainment — occasionally embarrassment.

But could such a thing ever really exist?

Todd Humphreys, assistant professor at Cockrell, thinks so.

“This really is a big step in that direction, because we are cutting the cord,” Humphreys says. “We are releasing the tether to allow virtual reality to be part of your walking experience.”

Humphreys and his team say they’ve created a more precise GPS positioning system that can pinpoint a smartphone’s location within a centimeter or two.

It involves software and an attachment you put on your phone. 

That might sound like a long way from the holodeck. But Humphreys says, if you couple it with a virtual reality headset: 

“That will allow you to experience the real world, the tactile world, the physical three-dimensional world, in a virtual way.  And it allows you to kind of tailor the world to your needs or tastes.”

Samsung is providing technical and financial help for the research, and Humphreys and three of his students have started their own company to commercialize the tech. Some more immediate applications could be improving smartphone navigation and even helping drone-based delivery systems. Then, maybe someday: