We caught up with the Hexagon team ahead of the Self Driving Track Day series on 10 July. Hexagon is sponsoring the event, they told us all about their thoughts on how the industry can help resolve the shortage in training and recruitment, how they are staying ahead of the competition and the limits to GPS/GNSS performance in today’s most advanced technologies.
Tell us about NovAtel’s relationship with Hexagon and what advantages that has brought to the business.
NovAtel is a part of Hexagon’s Positioning Intelligence division. Hexagon Positioning Intelligence leverages technology and products from its brands NovAtel and Veripos to deliver end-to-end assured positioning solutions. Being a part of the Hexagon family has allowed us to work closer with other divisions within Hexagon to pioneer solutions for emerging markets, specifically autonomous automotive applications.
What advances have taken place in positioning technology in the last 5 years?
Precise point positioning (PPP) is a positioning technique that uses GNSS satellite clock and orbit corrections to model and remove GNSS errors, resulting in a decimetre-level or better position solution. This technique is attractive in many markets because it is globally available and does not require additional hardware or infrastructure for the user. Although PPP has many advantages, the major technical challenge is the time it takes for the solution accuracy to converge. There has been significant investment in both industry and academia to resolve the technical limitations of convergence time with PPP solutions to the point where highly accurate, instantaneous PPP positioning is a reality today. Hexagon PI has launched TerraStar X technology to address the need for instantaneous convergence in high accuracy PPP solutions. When combined with automotive-grade GNSS receivers available through Hexagon Positioning Intelligence, this technology allows automotive customers to evaluate positioning performance in real-time using data delivered over the cellular network or the L-band frequency.
Sensor Fusion is another topic that is becoming vital to the advancement of positioning technologies. There are many cases where GNSS alone cannot provide an accurate positioning solution so other sensor (LiDAR, cameras, inertial measurement units, etc.) are being used to overcome the limitations of GNSS. Sensor fusion is the concept where these sensors are working together on a platform to contribute to the overall solution. Hexagon PI is already integrating IMUs into our positioning products to deliver GNSS+INS solutions through our SPAN product line. Advancements in the sensors themselves have allowed them to become more practical to integrate, which has led to significant improvements to the availability of a GNSS solution.
GNSS chipset manufacturers are producing automotive-grade multi-frequency GNSS chipsets in anticipation of autonomous driving applications. Dual frequency GNSS with safety and integrity is a critical component to achieving the accuracy and reliability required for autonomy. Hexagon PI is accelerating development in this area with our positioning solutions. Using our positioning engine and combining the GNSS measurements from these chipsets with Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) data and PPP correction services deliver centimetre-level PPP positioning solutions in real-time.
The availability of GNSS satellites has drastically increased over the last five years to become a truly global system. In addition to GPS, GLONASS, and BeiDou, Galileo became fully operational adding another 18 satellites for navigation. When a receiver utilizes signals from a variety of constellations, redundancy is built into the solution. More satellites mean more signal availability, which allows for reduced signal acquisition time and can reduce the impact of obstructions on the position solution.
How do you feel the industry can help resolve the shortage in training and recruitment?
Hexagon PI supports many university programs related to encouraging youth in their pursuit of GNSS knowledge. We also have a very successful intern program with an 85% post graduate rehire rate. Outside of these official programs we also connect with youth on a regular basis via school visits and social media to promote the knowledge of the industry.
Regarding intermediate to senior level responsibilities we encourage knowledge share within our company through a robust set of programs that encourage creativity and innovation specific to geomatics; such as an internal mentoring program, lunch and learn opportunities and our annual Innovation Week where everyone from the company can take time away from their regular responsibilities to work on innovative ideas that they have.
As Hexagon PI is a global organization with offices all over the world, recruiting is focused on both local and international candidates. Flexible and remote arrangements are common and encouraged to maintain our international presence. Building on flexible immigration programs within Canada, we have been able to attract senior level experienced people who can continue to build our internal knowledge share and elevate the skills of our existing employees.
Does positioning technology augment the vision system in an autonomous vehicle, or the other way around?
The simple answer is both. From our perspective, as a GNSS company, we rely primarily on positioning technology and use external sensors to augment the position solution. Vision systems and GNSS based position solutions are complementary technologies in that when vision systems fail (i.e. weather, poor visibility) the GNSS solution can provide an absolute position, which is crucial to maintaining lane-level accuracy of the autonomous vehicle.
What are the limits to GPS/GNSS performance in today’s most advanced technologies?
One of the major limitations of GNSS is that it does not work everywhere. GNSS positioning relies on the availability of satellite signals and performance is highly dependent on environmental factors. Buildings and trees obstruct GNSS signals, while tunnels and overpasses can completely block the signal. Most GNSS receivers can manage challenging environments through a combination of multipath mitigation algorithms, dead reckoning, and using data from inertial measurement units.
How is your company staying ahead of your competition?
Our range of products and knowledge in GNSS, specifically in safety critical applications, is what differentiates us from the competition. Hexagon PI has products that are uniquely positioned to deliver high precision GNSS solutions through every stage of development in autonomy. Our SPAN products, industry leading GNSS+INS solutions used as truth systems to enable automotive fleet integration, are the foundation for our sensor fusion algorithms. We recently announced TerraStar X, our technology platform to eliminate the convergence time of high accuracy PPP solutions. We have also worked with STMicroelectronics integrating our positioning engine and correction services on the world’s first automotive-grade multi-frequency GNSS chipsets. Hexagon PI continues to innovate to provide assured positioning anywhere.
Where do ADAS and autonomous vehicles sit in terms of importance among the wide range of applications for your technology?
ADAS and the progression toward autonomous vehicles sit very high in terms of importance for GNSS applications. An absolute position solution that is safe and reliable will be an integral part of an autonomous automotive application. There are still many challenges with ADAS that an accurate position solution can help to solve, especially as we transition to full autonomy.
What are you hoping to achieve as a business this year?
We will continue supporting autonomous driving programs world-wide with our industry-leading SPAN GNSS+INS positioning systems, and to make steady progress towards delivering a functionally safe, ISO-26262 ASIL-B qualified mass production automotive positioning solution based on our software positioning engine and TerraStar-X PPP services in the years ahead.
What would you tell a prospective employee about your company?
At Hexagon PI, we know that the success of our business is a direct result of our highly motivated and collaborative staff. We value our people as much as we value our business. We pride ourselves on providing a stimulating work experience and cultivating teams that encourage learning, so that you can hone your expertise and grow in your career.
We are not afraid to try new things, take calculated risks and find new opportunities. We value performance over procedure, setting measurable goals and working collaboratively to achieve the results we seek.
Some of the perks to working with Hexagon PI include: Expert teams, strong customer focus, flexible work hours, casual dress any day of the week, state-of-the-art work stations and employee led social and environmental committees. Not to mention comprehensive benefit packages, company paid professional development and market competitive salaries.
Come and meet Hexagon in Milton Keynes, UK on 10 July at Self Driving Track Days. Book your tickets here >>