What's next for Automotive Positioning Systems?

Whether it's a Spanish university revealing a smarter in-vehicle SatNav or bold predictions about the self-driving car, 2013 has seen increasing evidence that the next gear shift in automotive positioning technology could be just around the corner. But for the engineers developing and testing new systems, there are more immediate challenges ahead.

Recently, I discussed the situation in some detail for New Electronics Magazine. In brief, though, the main areas automotive development teams might want to focus on at the moment include:

More satellites

With the number of positioning (GNSS) satellites set to quadruple by the end of this decade, systems that rely on GPS only – or even GPS and GLONASS – will quickly be at a significant disadvantage in terms of signal availability and reliability experienced by the end user.

Increasingly, multi-GNSS chipsets are becoming the norm for automotive applications – meaning engineers in global markets need to review their testing procedures to ensure seamless operation with GPS, GLONASS and China's Beidou-2. What's more, the impending launch of Europe's Galileo network means systems being developed now will need to work with satellites that aren't even in space yet – making accurate simulation imperative (we have further information and case studies here).

More frequencies

Beyond the addition of new satellite constellations, it is likely that falling chipset prices could soon turn multi-frequency positioning into a realistic option for top-end automotive systems.

By comparing the multiple frequencies broadcast simultaneously by each satellite constellation, such systems dramatically reduce positioning uncertainty and mitigate for atmospheric effects – delivering consistent accuracy to within a few centimetres. This accuracy is currently only used in survey-grade applications, like precision agriculture.

Integrated sensor positioning

Already, automotive manufacturers are developing new ways of using data from vehicles' growing arsenal of in-built sensors – such as wheel speed, heading, and inertia – to improve vehicle positioning. New, connectivity-based technologies using WiFi, Bluetooth and smartphone positioning are not far away.

Integrating more sources of information will not only serve to improve accuracy – it helps to ensure continuity of performance in areas with little or no satellite signal. However it also demands a more robust testing regime, to ensure the system's algorithms deliver a seamless experience when individual signals are suddenly added or cut – such as entering or leaving a tunnel – or when two or more sources disagree.

Legislation, safety and expectations

Satellite positioning is no longer just a “nice to have”. It's becoming integral to safety and driver experience – and backed up in law, for example by the European Commission's eCall initiative and ERA-GLONASS in Russia. Likewise, in Brazil, telematics could soon become mandatory.

Meanwhile, customers' expectations about their vehicles' positioning capabilities are being continually inflated by technology development in the consumer electronics market.

The days when drivers tolerate poor reliability or accuracy in their in-vehicle navigation systems are ending, and positioning information is increasingly used for safety-critical features. We're approaching a major shift in the way such systems are tested, making rigorous quality assurance absolutely critical.

Change is happening now

These changes make this an exciting time for engineers developing new electronic and positioning systems for the automotive sector. But ground-breaking technologies need an equal step forward in testing, to ensure they meet customer expectations – allowing a rapid pace of innovation, while protecting reputation and ruling out warranty and recall issues.

Automotive engineers need a cost-effective way of delivering standardised, repeatable, global testing. And that's where Spirent is ready to help. If you'd like to discuss your particular situation in more detail, we'd be delighted to hear from you.

What changes do you expect to see in automotive positioning? Comment below.

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