When vehicles start handling multiple aspects of driving, electronic controls won’t always rely solely on input from onboard sensors. Often, antennas will point skyward to bring in information from GPS satellites and telematic systems.
“GPS and advances in wireless communications have certainly been integral to bringing the vision of autonomous systems to reality,” said Bryan Everett, Engineering Specialist, Design, Caterpillar.
Using GPS data is an important factor in commercial applications like agriculture. When precise locations are known, vehicles can move straight down rows without wavering.
“Farm tractors have become more efficient with the use of augmented GPS to directly control the hydraulic steering,” said Michael Olson, Engineering Manager, Electronic Components at Danfoss Power Solutions. “Augmented GPS ensures exact coverage of the field, minimizing fuel usage, and optimizing material usage. In the past, the user might miss portions of the field, or cover the same portion of the field twice, leading to inefficiencies and waste.”
Military users developed the GPS and use more satellite communications than any independent commercial field, so it’s not surprising that their autonomous plans make extensive use of satellite communications. For example, Lockheed Martin’s Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) communicates with satellites and drones.
“We also have demonstrated SMSS’s ability to operate remotely via satellite, and to detect and defeat improvised explosive devices,” said David Simon, Applique Programs Manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “An upcoming cooperative demonstration will feature our K-MAX autonomous rotorcraft carrying out a mission scenario with SMSS using only minimal human intervention.”
The technologies and concepts used by the military can often be converted to commercial vehicles.
“SMSS provides multiple applications to the first-responder market,” Simon said. “It can provide a very mobile platform for carrying significant amounts of supplies, gear, and equipment used by wildland firefighters, special tactics and weapons units of all law enforcement agencies, and rugged and remote terrain search-and-rescue teams.”
When data comes from outside the vehicle, security becomes part of the design project. Data integrity is an important aspect for any data that doesn’t come from a system that was built to go on the vehicle.
“In the last few years we have seen examples where GPS can be spoofed, trusted encryption standards can be hacked, backdoors and code vulnerabilities exploited, and virus infection of off-network systems,” said Greg Hudas, Chief Engineer/Technologist, Robotics at U.S. Army RDECOM-TARDEC. “Automated vehicle systems will have to deal with cyber security threats even within a ‘closed’ network.”
Though most people view hackers as the biggest threats, telematic input and other data can get corrupted during transmission, which could create disturbances on vehicle networks. Commercial suppliers are also worried about satellite and cellular communications.
“As telematics and wireless communication become more important on our systems, we need to ensure the communication is secure from intentional and unintentional disturbance as well as hacking,” Olson said.
Thwarting attacks is even more critical for military vehicles. Developers note that disrupting vehicle systems isn’t the only goal for attackers. Some want to steal proprietary information.
“Obviously, security is paramount for vehicles operating in hostile environments where the adversary stands to gain a lot by deconstructing, reverse-engineering, or otherwise copying your technology,” Simon said. “We place the highest priority on securing that technology.”