Utility location technology set to revolutionise autonomous vehicles

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory reached an agreement with Geophysical Survey Systems (GSSI) to produce commercial prototypes of technology that assists autonomous vehicles to navigate using subsurface geology known as localising ground penetrating radar (LGPR).

The MIT Lincoln Laboratory Engineers who developed LGPR have demonstrated that the technology features in soil layers, rocks, and road bedding can be used to localise vehicles’ accuracy.

GSSI will build and sell the prototype systems, and while the developers of self-driving cars are likely the initial customers, companies providing equipment and services for trucking, construction, mining, and agriculture may also find interest in the LGPR technology.

Its sensors use high-frequency radar reflections of underground features to generate a baseline map of a road’s subsurface, the idea being that whenever an LGPR vehicle drives along a road, the data can be used as a reference map.


LGPR has even been used to a keep a vehicle in a traffic lane in situations where snow, fog or dust has obscured aboveground features.

On subsequent passes an LGPR vehicle compares its current map against the reference map. The reference map can be correlated with the current map to create an estimate of the vehicle’s location.

It has demonstrated localisation to be accurate to within a few centimetres, in real-time and at high speeds, and even at night.

“This technology could significantly impact the self-driving vehicle industry,” said LGPR Program Lead Researcher Byron Stanley.

“Most autonomous vehicles rely on optical systems that ‘see’ road surfaces and surrounding infrastructure to localise themselves.

“Optical systems work well in fair weather conditions, but it is challenging and risky for them to work when snow covers lane markings and road surfaces or fog obscures points of reference.

“Even in fair conditions, having an independent sensor to rely on when your optics aren’t working could add several orders of magnitude to the reliability of current autonomous lane keeping systems.

“This technology can save lives.”

For more information visit the MIT Lincoln Laboratory Engineers website.

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