An innovation that increases the accuracy of satellite navigation, including in global positioning system devices and smartphones, has attracted the attention of European space scientists and delivered a major international award to a UNSW researcher.

Dr Nagaraj Shivaramaiah, of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER), has been awarded the international Institute of Navigation's (ION) Parkinson Award for outstanding new research.

This marks the first time an Australian entry has won the prize.

Dr Shivaramaiah's research, completed at UNSW's School of Surveying and Spatial Information Systems, has caught the attention of the US satellite navigation industry and generated a patent application.

In his PhD thesis, Dr Shivaramaiah proposed a number of improvements for signal and receiver design in satellite navigation to reduce costs and energy use, as well as boosting the accuracy of receivers.

At present, a major modernisation of satellite navigation technology is taking place around the world, as the United States, China and Europe utilise new, more accurate navigation signals, known as Alternate Binary-Offset-Carrier (AltBOC).

But such new signals are also far more complex. As a result, receivers are more difficult and expensive to design and can consume up to 35 times more energy than current GPS-based models.

Dr Shivaramaiah's work produced a simpler, 'receiver friendly' signal, as well as a less complex receiver. And a major breakthrough - the source of the new patent - was the receiver's ability to overcome distortions caused by multiple signals (multipath). This is a problem that has plagued GPS accuracy, especially in cities with their densely packed buildings.

"I targeted the AltBOC signal because any improvements would not only help to lower costs and energy use, but increase positioning accuracy," Dr Shivaramaiah said "And that's all good news for users, especially as gadgets like smart phones become more sophisticated and commonplace."

The director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER), and Dr Shivaramaiah's PhD supervisor, Professor Andrew Dempster, said his former student's work represented a "big discovery, that could potentially deliver much greater accuracy in satellite navigation."

"The high calibre of the work has been rightly recognised by the US Institute of Navigation, despite the fact that they rarely nominate any research outside North America for an award," Professor Dempster said.

BOC signal modulation is at the heart of satellite navigation modernisation. Not only will the US-operated GPS adopt it as it upgrades, but new navigation systems will rely almost exclusively on this signal design. China's COMPASS satellite system already uses it and Europe's Galileo system - due to be operational when its 18 satellites are all in orbit by 2014 - will depend on it. And the European Space Agency (ESA) also has its eye on the technology.

"While we will have to wait and see how ESA responds, it's already clear that a better method of producing a high performance signal will certainly attract a lot of European attention to UNSW," Professor Dempster added.

And UNSW will now manage the licensing agreements related to the new patent, with accredited partners.

Dr Shivaramaiah, who moved to Sydney from India in 2007, won the UNSW Dean's Award for Excellence in Postgraduate Research in 2009, as well as another ION prize for a student paper in the same year.

He is now a senior researcher at the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research and involved in several commonwealth funded programs.

More information: ION AwardUNSW SSISACSER

Media contact: Alex Symonds, UNSW Media Office | 02 9385 1933