Autonomous Vehicles The Real Stuff

One company, Morton, Illinois-based AutonomouStuff, is integrating NovAtel Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) components and services into an all-in-one product for automakers and their suppliers.

The company, which first used its technology in the mining and agriculture industry, sees autonomous vehicles as its top future market.

“We are working with some of the biggest OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) in the world,” says Bobby Hambrick, company founder. “We are evaluating LiDAR, cameras, radar, navigation, positioning and other sensors and syncing them together.”

AutonomouStuff is integrating GNSS and an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) into their custom product for developers. Currently, the company uses NovAtel GNSS technology—including antennas, firmware, inertial augmented systems, and software—for highway automation applications such as lane centering, Hambrick says.

The quest for high-precision positioning has been an important one for governments testing autonomous vehicles in projects worldwide. At the recent Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco, which Hambrick attended, one panel member said that while Real Time Kinematic (RTK) receivers are still expensive, quality and reliability of the systems varies when used in a CityPilot project in Europe.

“Location is the main challenge for our projects, even though the accuracy requirements were not that high [in this particular project],” said Tom Alkim, representing the Netherlands’ Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.

A fully autonomous vehicle, which industry experts say is a few years away with many highway regulations still to be developed, needs GNSS technology with centimetre-level accuracy to ensure that a vehicle stays safely in a lane. This also includes keeping vehicles at a safe distance from other cars.

NovAtel sells three levels of products from its Synchronous Position Attitude and Navigation (SPAN®) line to AutonomouStuff for use in the latter company’s Vehicle Perception Kits, says Jon Auld, NovAtel director, safety critical systems.

SPAN combines GNSS and IMUs to provide positioning, velocity and attitude when satellite signals are unavailable or blocked. The company’s positioning engine, NovAtel CORRECT with RTK, offers less than two-centimetre accuracy.




The three levels of product include a GNSS+INS (Inertial Navigation System) that provides integrated technology at several performance levels, along with NovAtel’s RTK positioning, Auld says. The performance difference between the three levels is largely tied to the quality of the inertial sensor that is paired with the GNSS engine. “The higher the quality of inertial sensor, the longer the system can propagate the solution when the GNSS is obstructed,” he says.

NovAtel’s SPAN technology is a growing part of the positioning solution required by Autonomous Vehicles. GNSS-only systems face reliability issues when in urban canyons and encountering additional signal blockage from trees and other obstructions. At the same time, without an external reference, INS signals will drift—and develop a buildup in data errors over a period of time.