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Autonomous Navigation

Autonomous Navigation

Auburn University's GAVLAB is closing the gaps in GPS, navigation, positioning and timing

GPS TruckEach day, people rely on hundreds of GPS, navigation and timing devices and instruments to assist in everything from driving directions to counting steps. However, those devices are not completely accurate 100 percent of the time.

But thanks to research being conducted within the Auburn University Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, those gaps in timing and location are being closed.

The GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory, or GAVLAB, within the college focuses on navigation and positioning, in addition to vehicle dynamics and controls, with much of the research being conducted at the intersection of the areas.

GAVLAB research is led by mechanical engineering faculty David Bevly, the Bill and Lana McNair Distinguished Professor, and Scott Martin, assistant research professor, and is assisted by more than 30 graduate and undergraduate students.

The research focusing on vehicle dynamics and transportation systems includes heavy trucks, passenger cars and off-road vehicles, including manual and autonomous vehicles. Projects have included truck platooning; improved steering control of GPS-guided farm tractors; driver assistance systems, vehicle and driver monitoring; and navigation and control of unmanned ground vehicles.

In the case of truck platooning, researchers take low-cost commercial sensors on production vehicles and conceive intelligent ways of fusing data together through smart algorithms developed in the lab to enable close-gap following to improve fuel economy — as much as a 5 percent savings — and safety.

"It improves the safety for the driver of the trucks, it improves the safety for the people around the trucks while improving fuel savings for the fleet owners operating these trucks, which improves the bottom line. And, ultimately, if you’re cutting fuel you’re reducing emissions. It has benefits sweeping across a wide range of things," said Bevly, who has served as principal or co-principal investigator on more than $20 million in extramurally funded research and holds three patents related to GPS technology and vehicle control.

GAVLAB research also centers on methods for assured positioning, navigation and timing.

"While GPS provides us very accurate navigation information when available, it can be degraded in some environments with heavy foliage or urban canyons where buildings block the signals," Martin said. " We’re working to improve the availability of GPS and to improve accuracy of the navigation solutions by combining GPS with additional sensors, cameras, lidar and radar commonly found on production vehicles that can be used to improve the robustness of our solutions."

These solutions could be used to assist navigation for vehicles, pedestrians and the visually impaired.

"Positioning has become ubiquitous," Bevly said. "We want to know where we’re at or how to get somewhere, and we want that all the time. We expect it now."

In addition to the research being conducted, the GAVLAB is also producing the next generation of engineers and navigation experts who can go into industry and help solve these critical problems. These engineering graduates have gone on to work for the defense industry, Tesla, Delphi, Draper and others.

GAVLAB’s research facilities include the National Center for Asphalt Technology’s test track, a 1.7-mile oval track jointly operated by Auburn University and the National Asphalt Pavement Association, as well as several by-wire and automated vehicles that include two Peterbilt tractors, a Lincoln MKZ and an autonomous ATV. An $800,000 autonomous vehicle research facility is being planned near the test track, pending approval.