Autonomous systems take on more tasks

April 10, 2023  - By
Image: Renu Robotics

Image: Renu Robotics

While on public roads self-driving cars are still years away, autonomous systems are already common in much less congested and/or much more controlled environments — such as farm fields, ports, mines, rivers, and in the air — where the risk of a collision causing injuries or fatalities is smaller by orders of magnitude. From unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) taking aerial photographs, to unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) spraying vineyards, to unmanned surface vessels (USV) conducting hydrographic surveys, autonomous or semi-autonomous systems are generally much safer, more efficient, and cheaper to operate than their manned counterparts.

Whether they have wheels, hulls, or wings to properly perform their tasks, autonomous systems need to know — with great accuracy — their position, heading and attitude (roll, pitch, yaw, surge, sway, and heave). For example, to spray grapes in a vineyard, an autonomous system needs to know not only its exact position but also whether it is level or tilted to one side due to uneven terrain, lest it spray the ground or into the air instead of the grapes. Similarly, a survey vessel’s pitch, which depends on its speed through the water, and its roll, due to waves and wind, affect the direction of its sonar beams.

Knowing a platform’s position, heading and attitude requires tight integration of the outputs of GNSS receivers and inertial navigation systems (INS). This enables autonomous systems to compensate for their movements — either physically and in real time, by orienting their sensors or tools, or in software when post-processing the data they collected.

The following three case studies sample current developments in autonomous systems on land, in the air, and on the water.

Matteo Luccio, Editor-in-Chief

Learn more about the following case studies:

Hexagon | NovAtel: Talking on land with SMART antennas

Trimble Applanix: Unmanned aerial vehicles aid survey efforts

CHC Navigation: The boat boost

About the Author: Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio, GPS World’s Editor-in-Chief, possesses more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for GNSS and geospatial technology magazines. He began his career in the industry in 2000, serving as managing editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World, then as editor of Earth Observation Magazine and GIS Monitor. His technical articles have been published in more than 20 professional magazines, including Professional Surveyor Magazine, Apogeo Spatial and xyHt. Luccio holds a master’s degree in political science from MIT. He can be reached at or 541-543-0525.