Leadership Talks: OEM Perspective on UAV Trends, Challenges

May 1, 2014  - By

Interview with Graham Purves, Executive Vice President, NovAtel


Graham Purves, NovAtel

Graham Purves, NovAtel

GPS World (GPSW): In the regulatory picture for unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs), what are the concerns for the GNSS research, design, and manufacturing community regarding air-space regulation?

Graham Purves (GP): The main concern is the scope and impact of certification requirements for UAV navigation systems in the National Air Space. Certification places constraints on software complexity, so it is difficult to define solutions if the certification framework is unclear.

In the context of current avionics for civil aviation, design standards and certification requirements are well defined. In the case of pilot-less aircraft, the navigation systems may make use of additional features and technologies that are not part of the current certification paradigm. Examples are tightly coupled inertial navigation systems (INS) for flight control and redundancy, and real-time kinematic (RTK) and differential GPS for landing and capture. Certification requirements and design assurance levels for these features will have a major impact on the definition and design process, and may even prevent some effective technical solutions from being used, due to the software complexity. Of course, communications and communication standards will also present a significant hurdle.

GPSW: What are the concerns for the GNSS research, design, and manufacturing community regarding vehicle/road regulation for UGVs?

GP: Similar answer. The software used in positioning and navigation systems is significantly more complex than the safety-critical software in current automotive systems. Regulation for UGVs may result in restrictive certification requirements that affect or prohibit the use of more complex software. Until we have a clear understanding of the certification framework, it is difficult to define technical solutions.

GPSW: In looking forward to the Federal Aviation Administration tests at six sites for integrating unmanned aerial vehicles into the commercial airspace safely, what are some of the technical challenges that you (and presumably NovAtel’s partners) are facing?

GP: We have proven some excellent technical solutions in the non-civil applications and believe the main barrier is not a technical but a regulatory challenge.

GPSW: What other pieces/technologies do you have to pull into the UAV/UGV integration to make it work? Inertial, certainly. What else?

GP: The UAV/UGV application is a very interesting arena for other positioning technologies that either augment or complement GNSS. Apart from navigation and auto-pilot functions, we believe the sense-and-avoid functions will require other sensing technologies, like scanning lasers. When you include the mission-related functions that require precise steering, pointing and measuring systems, the UAV/UGV is a very exciting category for companies like NovAtel.

GPSW: Is UAV/UGV a game-changer for the GNSS industry? Similar to the cellphone/smartphone implementation of GNSS chips, which created a whole new sector?

GP: It does have two elements that might be considered game-changers:

    1. The movement of GNSS and other positioning technologies into a safety-critical role. It seems inevitable that someday we will live in a world where autonomous vehicles are the norm, and the idea of having a human behind the wheel is both complex and unsafe.
    2. The UAV/UGV is an enabling technology and a platform for innovation. Similar to the wireless revolution, the killer applications may well be things we haven’t yet conceived of.

Graham Purves has been active in the GNSS industry since 1990, starting in ASIC development and continuing with various technical and business positions within NovAtel over the last 26 years.