A West Virginia University engineering professor has won a prestigious grant from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency for work that can help improve the accuracy and robustness of global positioning systems for fast-moving vehicles such as drones.

Jason Gross, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, will receive the two-year, $200,000 grant (with optional funding for a third year) as part of the agency’s New Investigator Program.

The use of GPS to find everything from the closest coffee shop to guiding commercial aircraft has become commonplace in everyday life. Its use, or in some cases over use, is also of concern for the U.S. Department of Defense where the stakes can be much higher.

GPS jamming, Gross said, happens when someone broadcasts a powerful signal in the same part of the radio spectrum that GPS uses making the signals unavailable. GPS spoofing happens when someone sends out a signal that mimics real GPS signals, but contains false information, which tricks the receiver into thinking it is somewhere else.

“The potential for malicious signal jamming and spoofing has become the focus of a great deal of research activity,” Gross said. “Researchers are looking to the use of alternatives to GPS for precise navigation and time-keeping.”

Gross’ approach to the problem is to not completely “throw out the baby with the bath water.” Instead of eliminating the use of GPS altogether, Gross plans to focus on systems that combine GPS signals from U.S. satellites with other forms of navigation including onboard passive sensors and other country’s global navigation satellite systems, and to design algorithms that can determine when and when not certain signals can be trusted.

“When everything—including GPS—is working well, we hope to show improved accuracy for fast-moving platforms,” Gross said. “When things go wrong and the GPS is not functioning properly, we hope to show improved robustness.”

Gross and his students will be using small unmanned aerial vehicles to test his algorithms.

“The UAVs will be instrumented to collect many types of raw navigation sensor data,” he said. “We will then manipulate the data on the ground to simulate issues with GPS integrity and use this data to assess our algorithms.”

The testing will take place at WVU’s flight-testing facility at Jackson’s Mill.

This is the second award this semester for Gross, a Morgantown native, who earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from WVU in 2007 and 2011, respectively, and previously worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Thanks to an Air Force Office of Scientific Research Summer Faculty Fellowship Program award, he will be spending eight weeks over the summer at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, working on GNSS integrity monitoring.

“I am delighted to see Dr. Gross’ work in global positioning systems be recognized at the national level,” said Gene Cilento, Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Statler College. “He is latest in what has become an increasing number of new faculty at WVU and the Statler College to be recognized early on in their careers. Our students will benefit greatly from his research work and teaching endeavors in the years to come.”

Seed funding for Gross’ work in this area was provided by the Statler College and NASA-West Virginia Space Grant Consortium Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.



CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4086, Mary.Dillon@mail.wvu.edu

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.