GSSI, a leading manufacturer of ground penetrat- ing radar (GPR) equipment, announces TerraVi- sion, the first-to-market localizing ground-pen- etrating radar (LGPR) technology that improves
navigation for autonomous vehicles (AVs).
The LGPR technology was originally developed at MIT
Lincoln Laboratory for military applications and is designed
to help navigate even in the worst driving conditions on the
planet. It works by sending radio waves into the ground,
creating a digital fingerprint of the subsurface. This underground map of soils and rocks becomes the reference to
guide autonomous vehicles. The benefit? LGPR is unaffected
by above-ground conditions like snow, fog, rain, dust—
conditions that present huge challenges to the usual AV sensors.
Since this product is licensed from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology under U.S. Patent No. 8,949,024
for prototype or demonstration purposes, it is intended for
OEMs and Tier 1 companies who aim to solve the hardest
problem remaining for autonomous navigation: weather.
Developers are now seeing solid results in all weather
conditions using TerraVision, the worlds’ first commercial
LGPR. In late June, TerraVision successfully integrated
into Level 2 test automation in closed-loop field trials in
Devens, MA. Level 2 is defined as control of both steering
and acceleration, where a human sits in the driver’s seat
and can take control of the car at any time.
“GSSI is proud to be conducting autonomous driving
tests with this technology. It’s only the second time this has
happened with this commercial technology thus far,” said
Dr. Babak Memarzadeh, TerraVision Project Lead. “We can
clearly see significant improvements since our first attempt.”
Years of experimental testing at MIT have proven LGPR’s
potential. Now, it is benefiting from the leading GPR company
to make performance improvements with faster hardware,
smarter software, and smaller mechanical design. For example, GSSI completely redesigned the RF switching, cut
the power requirements by a factor of 4, reduced emissions
by more than 100x, significantly reduced the size, making
it more weather-resistant while improving performance.
Basically, we took a science project and turned it into a
manufacturable product. The technology still has room to
grow (shrink, actually), with plenty of fruitful real-world pro-
totype testing yet to come. With our decades of experience
in geophysics, and GPR, we feel uniquely positioned to col-
laborate with OEMs and Tier 1s to prove out this new sensor.
GSSI has decided initially to focus overseas, given the
uncertainties around FCC restrictions in the United States,
and since they had been asked by several firms around the
world to develop and test LGPR. This includes two large
Japanese and German companies working on AV navigation. The performance testing in Germany may establish
the technology’s effectiveness by year-end.
HOW LGPR WORKS:
LGPR works by using radar to map underground rocks,
soil layers, pipes, and roots. Each 3-m deep slice image
is surprisingly distinct. Stitching many of these images to-
gether creates a full 3D fingerprint that can be used by any
LGPR-equipped vehicle to know exactly where it is. Since
LPGR relies 100% on what’s under the road to navigate,
it isn’t dependent on what’s going on above-ground: like
snow, darkness, tunnels or even if there’s a road there at
all. Furthermore, with 50 years of know-how and data, GSSI
can prove that GPR maps remain rock-solid for decades
and has the geophysics experience needed to make LGPR
maps stable and reliable. LGPR testing has shown an in-lane
localization accuracy at highway speeds of about 4cm—an
accuracy equal to or better than other AV navigation sensors.
For example, GPS navigation can give about 30 cm accu-
racy, except in cities, forests, and tunnels. Other sensors,
such as LiDAR, Radar, and cameras, scan the surface fea-
tures of the road and its environment to achieve about 10
cm accuracy, but navigation can easily break down in rain,
snow, dust, fog and even fallen leaves. Testing in Texas,
Arizona, and California can solve important problems, but
for real progress to be made, testing will have to be done
in far less “friendly” locations. That’s where LGPR can help.
Adding LGPR for AV navigation would compensate for
known sensor failure modes that put lives at risk. Creating
the full map, above-ground and below, greatly raises the
probability that autonomous vehicles can localize and navigate roadways in any conditions. If international LGPR field
trials confirm MIT’s and GSSI’s results so far, it would be a
huge win for the industry, since user AV acceptance requires
fail-safe localization everywhere and in all conditions.
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PENETRATING RADAR :
By David Cist, Ph.D.
GSSI’s TerraVision is the first-to-market localizing ground-penetrating radartechnology that improves navigation
for autonomous vehicles.