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KVH looks to self-driving cars with inertial sensor plans

April 6, 2016  - By
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KVH Industries is developing a fiber optic gyro (FOG)-based, low-cost inertial sensor for self-driving cars.

The company also released a Developer’s Kit to assist design engineers with integrating FOG technology into driverless car control systems.

KVH’s high-precision FOG is key to a driverless car’s performance. In this photo, the red illumination represents light moving through the FOG’s optical circuit of coiled fiber; this circuit is the FOG’s sensing unit — it is mounted with power and processing electronics within a driverless car to provide precise data for the car’s navigation systems.

KVH’s high-precision FOG is key to a driverless car’s performance. In this photo, the red illumination represents light moving through the FOG’s optical circuit of coiled fiber; this circuit is the FOG’s sensing unit — it is mounted with power and processing electronics within a driverless car to provide precise data for the car’s navigation systems.

FOGs and FOG-based inertial measurement units (IMUs) are key parts of the sensor mechanisms that are essential for highly accurate autonomous car performance, KVH said. For example, FOGs provide precise azimuth measurements that an autonomous car’s logic processing unit and control systems need to determine motion through a curve.

An IMU — which includes FOGs and accelerometers in one compact package — also provides highly accurate 6-degrees-of-freedom angular rate and acceleration data to precisely track the position and orientation of the car even when GPS is unavailable, helping the car stay on course.

As a manufacturer of high-performance sensors and integrated inertial systems for defense and commercial guidance and stabilization applications, KVH Industries has experience in autonomous vehicle prototype programs and unmanned applications.

“Extremely precise heading based on fiber-optic gyro technology is absolutely essential for autonomous vehicle performance,” said Martin Kits van Heyningen, KVH’s chief executive officer. “This is something we learned from having been involved with more than a dozen driverless car development programs over the years.”

“What we are seeing now is that each driverless vehicle concept in development around the world is being designed in a unique way,” said Kits van Heyningen. “With so many different possibilities, developers can accelerate their progress by working with a proven technology such as KVH’s FOGs and FOG-based IMUs and leveraging our experience to ensure their success.”

Developer’s Kit. The new Developer’s Kit includes the user interface software and all components needed to connect a KVH FOG or FOG-based IMU to a computer to configure, analyze and test a unit. “The kit is designed to help engineers get up and running in minutes, making it easier to run diagnostics and accelerate their system development,” said Roger Ward, KVH’s director of FOG product development.

Driverless cars represent one of the fastest areas of autonomous-systems development. Transportation experts, automotive manufacturers and engineers alike predict that driverless cars will be commonplace soon.

An updated policy concerning automated vehicles will soon be published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. “The rapid development of emerging automation technologies means that partially and fully automated vehicles are nearing the point at which widespread deployment is feasible,” NHTSA said.

“We have successfully produced more than 90,000 fiber-optic gyros for an extensive range of unmanned applications, in part because of our ability to tailor size, performance, and cost to meet different design needs,” said Jeff Brunner, KVH’s vice president for FOG operations. “Controlling the entire FOG design and manufacturing process gives us that advantage, and makes it possible to produce a low-cost sensor when driverless cars enter full-scale production.”

KVH’s FOGs and FOG-based IMUs are in use in prototype programs not only for autonomous cars, but also for production programs for underwater unmanned vehicle navigation and rail/track geometry measurement systems, to name just a few.

KVH1750-T

The KVH 1750 IMU.

In addition, KVH’s inertial products have been widely adopted for commercial applications such as land-based street mapping platforms, unmanned aerial systems, camera stabilization systems and remotely operated subsea systems.

As more and more programs and platforms use KVH’s inertial products, they are becoming the reference standards of the unmanned world. For example, KVH’s 1750 IMU was an integral part of 11 of the 23 humanoid robot finalists in last year’s DARPA Robotics finals, a competition designed to showcase robots capable of intervening for and even replacing humans in high-risk situations such as fires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.

“Our IMUs and inertial sensors have already been used in a wide range of products and applications, and we know that it’s just the beginning,” said Kits van Heyningen. “We are thrilled to play a role in these exciting developments and emerging applications that are literally changing everyday life.”

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