u-blox is a global solutions company for leading positioning and wireless communication for industrial, consumer, and automotive markets. Focusing on the latter aspect, Alex Ngi, product manager for u-blox’s Dead Reckoning group, spoke with Electronics Point’s Sam Holland about the company’s V2X solution (unveiled in May this year): the ZED-F9K dead reckoning module.
As intelligent cars become increasingly commonplace, and urbanisation grows more prevalent by the day, the rising need for vehicle position tracking is now more significant than ever, particularly in built-up areas.
Accordingly, the ZED-F9K tackles the modern need for high-accuracy location-aware services by offering dead reckoning: a combination of GNSS, inertial measurement unit (IMU), accelerometer, gyroscope, and correction services technology, which culminates in unprecedented vehicle positioning (even in obstructed areas).
Altogether, Alex Ngi covers how the ZED-F9K and other u-blox solutions rise to the industry’s needs—which include enhanced positioning accuracy, V2X cybersecurity, and faster intelligent software integration in vehicles—before he ultimately recounts the successful Toyota Prius V2X car fleet performance showcased at ITS European Congress earlier in 2019, and even provides a glimpse of u-blox’s overall aims for the future.
Alex Ngi, a product manager at u-blox, conducting a presentation.
SH: Why don’t we start with an introduction of yourself and your role at u-blox?
AN: I’m a product manager in u-blox’s Dead Reckoning group: it’s all about the technology that we typically use for cars, and I’m specifically responsible for the ZED-F9K product in question, which is the segment of the product that’s for high-precision automotive positioning products. These have to be used in the next generation of autonomous vehicles, and high-precision mapping and other such applications.
SH: Could you describe what the ZED-F9K is doing differently to alternative technology, particularly in regards to how it achieves its decimetre-level performance?
AN: In automotive positioning, the way we define high accuracy, such as decimetre-level performance, concerns the quality of the receiver: we talk about how accurate the vehicle’s position is, plus the availability of the position.
We also talk about convergence times: when something, such as a skyscraper, obstructs the system’s ability to establish the desired, high-precision position of the vehicle, convergence times are used as a measurement of how fast the system recovers from such a loss. So to achieve the ideal convergence times, what the u-blox ZED-F9K has is a multi-band receiver—as opposed to the previous generation of devices, which typically have only a single-band receiver.
In addition, we have an IMU, for which the corresponding gyroscopes and accelerometer grants the system good operation, even when it’s fully obstructed—such as in a tunnel. And then, finally, the other element is the correction services in place: these are there to correct errors in the measurements, i.e. errors such as those that come from the earth’s ionospheric and tropospheric effects. These prove major variables that tend to affect the accuracy of the position.
Altogether, the points I’ve mentioned mark major upgrades compared to a standard precision receiver.
SH: As the automotive industry continues to become more connected, what are your main thoughts in regards to cybersecurity—and how do you think cybersecurity issues can be addressed or overcome through u-blox’s solutions?
AN: What we’ve demonstrated with Siemens and their partners basically shows V2X in the context of what we call C-ITS: cooperative intelligent transport systems. Vehicles of this nature use public key cryptography and certificates to dedicate elements of the system: the technology protects the system from, let’s say, somebody having cars that just send out false information.
On the other hand, at u-blox itself, though, the parts that we work on are mostly in the area of jamming and spoofing protection, which cannot generally be achieved through such certificates and cryptography. So, again, we focus our efforts in jamming and spoofing protection—but it’s an ongoing battle: it’s not like public key cryptography where the whole protection is in the key; in fact, the more we disclose about what we are doing for jamming and spoofing, the more problems we have.
The other thing that we do is implement various features, let’s say on the board, that protect the communications from the chips to the host. For example, we have a feature in which we sign the receiver’s outputs to the system so that the host application—the mapping software, for example—would know that these messages are coming from the chip, that somebody has hacked the board or something like that.
But again, dealing with cybersecurity is an important and ongoing battle.
SH: To quote your thoughts taken from u-blox’s corresponding press release:
“u-blox's collaboration with Siemens shows the extent to which the ZED-F9K turnkey solution saves original equipment manufacturers time, cost, and engineering effort, while providing decimetre-level positioning performance.”
Could you walk me through such highlights of u-blox’s said collaboration with Siemens?
AN: Siemens and its partners have demonstrated a complete system, which involves multi-access edge computing and the overall V2X infrastructure—including the roadside unit, aka the RSU, and the corresponding traffic lights and cellular technology involved. These elements are all put together into a working system that shows that safety, environmental impact, the comfort for the user, and so on, can be improved.
Let's say, traditionally, when somebody was designing a GNSS system to establish the vehicle position—i.e. to achieve a high-accuracy solution—they would have to work on the necessary system integration for themselves. They’d have to implement special software, such as real-time kinematic and dead reckoning software—and they would have to tune it all for a specific vehicle.
The u-blox solution features all these aspects, including its ability to allow the user to adapt, let’s say, a specific reference point for where the sensors are sitting in the car, the antenna position, and the vehicle reference points. And so, we are essentially working on a system component for the car, and that makes it much easier for them to integrate such technology. That’s what we’ve basically demonstrated at the show [the ITS European Congress 2019]: a device that has a very high accuracy, and technology that can be easily integrated into the test car: the Toyota Prius V2X.
SH: With the ZED-F9K now introduced, can we hear about such technology performed overall at the ITS European Congress 2019, where the Toyota Prius V2X test fleet took place?
AN: Oh, it worked great. The test run demonstrations took place 6 times or so for over 2 days. They were able to demonstrate that Siemens had essentially secured a digital twin simulation environment: in other words, they demonstrated the results of their developing algorithms in a simulated environment that can capture the dynamics of a real-world street—like creating a ‘digital twin’.
More specifically, they were able to demonstrate how V2X technology can request, let’s say an earlier turn at the streetlights: so if you want to do a right turn, it could request the streetlight to accommodate this—for instance, at times when there’s a lot of traffic going around, so it could also improve the efficiency.
The demonstration also showed that the RSU could detect pedestrians in blind spots that would otherwise inhibit such a manoeuvre. This meant that it would only grant this kind of improved turn performance with safety, ultimately reducing the braking required and making the passengers feel more comfortable.
I think it was altogether a very good demonstration—it even involved some platooning, in fact: one part of the show involved 2 cars following each other closely, and given the vehicles’ good positioning information and the low-latency communication links between them, the cars could follow each other particularly closely. These are all documented use cases of V2X applications, so the demonstration was very, very powerful and attractive to the attendees of the show.
SH: What do you feel are u-blox’s overall plans in terms of influencing the automotive industry?
AN: We basically plan to make the high-precision position solutions ubiquitous to the automotive market, particularly by offering a solution with correction services that can be quickly deployed. You can also see that objective reflected by our joint venture with SAPCORDA—short for Safe and Precise Correction Data: a company who is also working on the relevant correction services.
We also have products in the business-to-exchange, aka B2X, market for the use of IEEE 802.11p—relevant to dedicated short-range communications, or DSRC. And of course, we have continuous innovation and technology for chips, antennas, and algorithm design. So all these are key parts of our solution to improve the automotive industry.
SH: On a closing note, is there anything that you'd like to add about the connected automotive industry?
AN: At u-blox we consider the automotive industry a very exciting market for us. We have the ZED-F9K turnkey solution that I’ve been telling you about, which is certainly very suitable for markets where people are looking for solutions that don’t take a lot of time to integrate.
All in all, we see that the market is very interesting: we see that people are working on solutions for connected cars, automated cars, sharing, and also the electrification of vehicles. In fact, we think electrification is going to be as big for transport as the internet is for communication.
Many thanks to Alex Ngi for his explanation of the ZED-F9K module, as well as u-blox’s approaches to the intelligent automotive industry at large. With V2X solutions becoming relied upon more and more, it is refreshing to see location-aware technology whose level of quality, scalability, and accuracy is a breakthrough in itself.