The arrival of autonomous vehicles into our lives appears inevitable as autonomous delivery systems, shuttles and on demand robo-taxis undergo testing in sites around the United States and the world. Yet one concern that’s raised regularly is the potential for GPS spoofing, sending vehicles astray with false satellite position data and endangering human beings both inside and outside the vehicle. The U.S. military has recognized this as a threat to its GPS-dependent vehicles and is aggressively seeking alternate and complementary solutions, which will also become increasingly relevant for the self-driving car market.
The idea of taking remote control of vehicles and sending them off course through spoofing has been popularized by the James Bond and Fast and Furious films. And yes, self-driving cars are becoming complex data centers on wheels. However, the idea of hacking the GPS is a bust according to car hacking wizards, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek. Why? Because not only are self-driving vehicles not that dependent on GPS for navigation, they actually hardly rely on it at all.
Why GPS Spoofing Would Be a Waste of Time for Driverless Cars
Satellite-based navigation alone simply doesn’t offer the precision needed for autonomous vehicles. GPS offers positional accuracy within one meter, which is just not good enough for safe autonomous vehicle navigation. Think about the difference 3 feet to the left or right would make when you’re cruising down a city street! Instead, autonomous navigation systems rely on a combination of sensors including precision mapping, cameras, radar, and LiDAR, which is accurate to within an inch or so, and inertial sensors such as the inertial measurement units (IMUs) developed and manufactured by KVH.
IMUs incorporate precise accelerometers, magnetometers, and gyroscopes to measure movement and orientation of the platform without any outside reference or resource such as a satellite-based navigation system. The data from the IMU is fused with data from other onboard sensors using algorithms, which then provide an accurate navigation and positioning solution. Because they neither send or receive signals, and do not emit detectable signals, inertial systems are immune to jamming. This self-contained capability provided by the IMU in a hybrid system provides the assurance of accurate position and navigation when GPS is unavailable or unreliable due to environmental factors, blockage, or malicious activities like GPS spoofing.
Inertial navigation solutions are also playing a vital role in autonomous and manned platforms that do rely on GPS such as military vehicles. Assurance that navigation information will be obtainable, reliable, and accurate is one of the guiding principles behind current efforts of the United States military to enhance and protect GPS/GNSS from GPS spoofing. M-code, a new military signal, is designed to improve anti-jamming and secure access of the military GPS signals. At the same time, the U.S. military is developing the ability to access sources of positioning, navigation and timing that are not satellite-based. To that end, inertial sensors and systems are being incorporated into tactical navigation solutions to provide the assurance that accurate and dependable positioning, navigation and timing will always be available to U.S. troops stationed anywhere in the world.
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