Interview with Peter Fairhurst, Market Development Manager, Product Center Positioning, u-blox Peter Fairhurst joined the Product Strategy team in the Product Center Positioning at u-blox AG in 2015. He is responsible for the development of industrial markets, with a specific focus on unmanned systems and mapping solutions.
What is the reality of autonomous vehicles and what role does GNSS play in this?
Autonomous driving has been the most-discussed topic out of all the possible autonomous vehicle applications. The automotive industry is currently developing technologies that enable the car to operate autonomously, but with the safety net of the driver being ready to intervene at a few seconds’ notice. However,completely removing driver input, so that someone could literally fall asleep at the wheel, is a much bigger challenge, demanding whole new levels of performance from the associated technologies. For example, wherever the vehicle is, its control unit needs to know its position and velocity with an extremely high level of accuracy and confidence. Without this, it will be impossible to enable truly safe and secure operation of the vehicle anytime and anywhere. To achieve this level of position and velocity precision, we’ll need to see multiple types of sensor working together. For example, Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) will not be able to deliver the required accuracy in a tunnel. Similarly, camera solutions will not operate to a satisfactory level in situations where visible landmarks are obscured (this could include in snowy or rainy conditions, or in a traffic jam).
That said, GNSS will be central to any truly autonomous vehicle solution, given it is the only globally available source of absolute position, time and velocity. It will also be the only solution able to precisely pinpoint where the vehicle is on a high-resolution map. Imagine a situation where two parallel roads exist, just metres apart,
one of which permits autonomous driving, the other doesn’t. It’s crucial the car’s controller knows which of the two it’s on, which in turn requires high levels of trust in the
Please expand on GNSS technology for high-precision navigation and how it compares with traditional technology?
High-precision GNSS technologies have existed for many years but have traditionally served niche markets. Conversely, traditional, standard-precision positioning technologies have been used in many millions of devices. Standard-precision GNSS technologies are excellent at providing metre-level position accuracy. This is – and will
continue to be – of enormous benefit in a variety of scenarios.
However, the growing need for automation and control in unmanned vehicle applications has created a demand for greater positioning precision. High-precision positioning
technologies require GNSS corrections, which come from either a static base-station or a GNSS reference-station network. This mitigates measurement errors and increases the positional accuracy to centimetre-level with high confidence. However, for highly automated driving scenarios having centimeter level accuracy is not enough and being able to trust the positional information to a high level is incredibly important.
What are the potential uses for high-precision GNSS?
High-precision GNSS will find uses in autonomous driving, but also in other automotive applications. The warnings delivered by V2X systems will become safer, more reliable,
with less annoying “false alarms”.
The navigation system will become “lane accurate”, e.g. will be able to invite the driver to change lane early enough before an exit. Augmented Reality will be able to display the routing instructions directly on the road/lane, for even more driver comfort, safety and excitement.
Unmanned aerial vehicles are a hot topic in the geomatics sector. How will they influence the GNSS business?
The success of the consumer and hobbyist UAV markets is driving technology advances and economies of scale. Professional applications, including geomatics, are
benefiting from these. A high number of UAV applications already use GNSS for navigation. But emerging industrial UAV use cases need the vehicle to follow very precise trajectories if they’re to increase data-collection efficiency and effectiveness. Only highprecision GNSS technologies can provide this.
However, while many existing high-precision GNSS technologies can generate the precise trajectories required, their size, power and cost are too great for them to see mass
adoption. Consequently, there’s a clear demand for high-precision GNSS technologies that can meet these requirements.
u-blox has a long history of delivering high-performance GNSS technology for mass market applications in small, low-power and easy-touse modules. The natural next
step is to integrate highprecision GNSS technology into similar modules, thereby bringing highprecision GNSS performance to the mass market.
What are u-blox’s offerings in this space?
The u-blox NEO-M8P module combines the high-performance u-blox M8 positioning engine with our Real Time Kinematic (RTK) technology. As a result, the NEO-M8P provides centimetre level
GNSS performance, designed to meet the needs of unmanned vehicles and other machine control applications where exceptionally high precision guidance is essential.