GPS technology is everywhere nowadays — it’s built into phones, cars, and an increasing number of industrial devices. But to date, GPS hasn’t been very precise. Conventional GPS modules have an accuracy range of about 15 feet, which is good enough for guiding you to a location but not the best if you’re building unmanned drones.
Swift Navigation hopes to improve on that, with centimeter-accurate GPS technology that can be used for a much wider range of applications. The company has developed a GPS module that comes at a fraction of a cost of competing chips with the same accuracy, which it hopes will be used in all sorts of agriculture, drones, and construction applications.
To do so, it’s raised $2.6 million in funding to get its low-cost GPS modules embedded into a whole bunch of new devices. That funding was led by First Round Capital, with Fall Line Capital, Felicis Ventures, Kal Vepuri, Lemnos Labs, Qualcomm Ventures, and VegasTechFund also participating.
According to Swift Navigation CEO Tim Harris, its Piksi module was developed with low-cost, off-the-shelf components, meaning it costs much less than competing products. What sets it apart is the software inside, which uses real-time kinematic technology to enhance the precision of the GPS measurements.
All of that adds up to a GPS chip that is the same size of existing modules, at 1.5″ x 1.5″ but much more precise. And while highly accurate GPS chips are already available for up to $10,000, Swift Navigation makes and sells its chips for about $500. That might not be low enough to install in your mobile phone, but it could enable a whole bunch of new applications in agriculture automation or drone navigation.
The company first made its chip available through a Kickstarter campaign last year, and since then has done a few production runs of its chips. Early backers were mostly UAV enthusiasts — that is, folks with drones who want to make their navigation more precise.
Now, however, it’s seeing demand from a number of different customers, including some Fortune 100 clients. According to Harris, the chip could be used in a whole bunch of new fields where the technology was previously too expensive, including automated agriculture and mining.
It’s sold more about 1,000 modules to more than 300 customers, and is looking to increase that dramatically in the coming months. The funding will be used for hiring and expanding its product offering, including a ruggedized version of the chip which will be coming soon.