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Swift Navigation launches cloud-based GNSS service for autonomous vehicles

March 20, 2018  - By

Swift Navigation has released Skylark, a cloud-based GNSS corrections service delivering centimeter-level accuracy without deploying and maintaining a GNSS network. Skylark targets autonomy applications at scale and enables high-precision positioning for mass market automotive and autonomous vehicle applications.

Skylark works with both of Swift’s multi-band, multi-constellation GNSS receivers, the Piksi Multi and the Duro ruggedized industrial receiver. Swift added GLONASS support in its 1.4 firmware upgrade, announced earlier this month, and aims to include Galileo and BeiDou in the near future.

Previously known as a hardware company, Swift Navigation appears to be shifting its focus a bit, including an Internet-delivered service in addition to its GNSS receivers. It has recently focused more closely on the automotive sector; it also has customers in drone technology, robotics and precision agriculture.

Its new platform for high-precision GNSS navigation of autonomous vehicles, via Internet connectivity, Skylark delivers fast convergence times measured in seconds, using positioning algorithms to provide a continuous stream of data to individual devices from the cloud. The data stream allows for quick and robust positioning and high reliability and availability, even in challenging environments, according to the company.

The Skylark service offers accuracy at the centimeter level. (Image: Swift Navigation)

Critical requirements for real-time absolute localization through GNSS for the automotive sector, according to Fergus Noble, co-founder and CTO of Swift Navigation, are:

  • high accuracy; centimeter level
  • availability; fast convergence, measured in seconds
  • integrity
  • scalability to support a large vehicle population
  • low cost.

Internet-Delivered via Cell Network

The last two requirements are fulfilled by the cloud-based approach. He characterized Skylark as a hybrid of RTK (Real Time Kinematics) and PPP (Precise Point Positioning) approaches augmented by Swift’s intellectual property, with corrections delivered over the Internet as provided by the cellular network, which he described as “robust to outages.” Cell coverage along road networks is good, Noble asserted, and 5G applications are increasing that coverage and will further enable connected vehicles. Automotive OEMs are comfortable with the level of cell coverage for this application, according to him. There has been testing to show robustness in most rural areas, and network operators are dedicated to increasing this.

“Skylark operates like a utility,” said Noble. “It is a simple, low-cost Internet data stream that provides customers with a complete high-integrity GNSS solution. Simply supply a Swift receiver with power and Internet connectivity and get real-time corrections for highly-dynamic GNSS applications.”

To realize the Skylark service, the company hired a team of cloud-based engineering experts who had a role in building Amazon and Oracle critical infrastructure. Swift Navigation is initially launching only with its own devices, but is making the service publicly-available for any customer in any vertical requiring precise positioning. “Every car company is building in autonomous functionality,” noted Noble, making clear who the company is ultimately targeting.

Skylark is currently offered in six metropolitan markets. (Image: Swift Navigation)

Swift has been working with beta customers for more than a year and is now previewing the service to all customers in six metropolitan markets: the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Detroit. The company envisions full contiguous U.S. and ultimately global expansion. Customers in preview areas with Swift receivers can sign up for Skylark and immediately start receiving corrections.

The service maintains low bandwidth to save on data costs and is offered with a free 30 day trial and flexible pricing plans. Skylark’s pricing structure includes a monthly plan and an annual plan. Enterprise pricing is available for volume orders.

Voyage Self-Driving Car Active Service and Coming Expansion

An early beta user of the service, Voyage deploys self-driving taxis in private communities across North America. “Skylark and Piksi Multi are working safely and efficiently in a real-world application today at The Villages, a retirement community in San Jose, California,” said Oliver Cameron, co-founder & CEO of Voyage.

Voyage incorporates Skylark GNSS corrections in controlled road networks in private communities. (Image: Swift Navigation)

Voyage’s passenger cars carry a roof-racked suite of sensors: the Swift Navigation Piksi Multi GNSS receiver, LiDAR, cameras, radar, and an inertial measurement unit. A computer in the trunk integrates all sensor signals and uses the car’s CAN bus to operate steering, braking, and other functions. An operator sits behind the wheel at all times, sometimes with a co-pilot: one to watch the road ahead, and one to watch the software. “Safety is our first priority,” said Cameron.

The service is especially valuable to customers with mobility limitations that might prevent them from walking to an event or moving within the community. (Image: Swift Navigation)

The Voyage fleet stays within the bounds of a given community, where all roads have been precisely mapped, speed limits are lower and traffic patterns are more clearly defined than in metropolitan cities. The first in the San Jose area serves private community of more than 4,000 residents, with a 15-mile road network. Today, residents are able to summon a Voyage self-driving taxi using a smartphone app and have a ride waiting at their front door. This service is especially valuable to customers with mobility limitations that might prevent them from walking to an event or moving within the community. Voyage takes residents of The Villages to and from the gym, to visit with friends, to the golf course and to community center events.

Image: Swift Navigation

Image: Swift Navigation

Voyage will next deploy the Swift product suite in its upcoming deployment launching to 160,000 retirees at The Villages complex in Florida, over a road network of 750 miles. It is currently in a “Q/A” testing phase on that site, working the technology and the local mapping through their paces.