Can Better GPS Make Autonomous Vehicles Safer?

Why Autonomous Vehicles?

Anyone who has been following the evolution of the automotive industry and it’s progress toward autonomous vehicles (AV) understands the importance of accurate and reliable sensors such as LiDAR, RADAR, cameras, etc. We also realize the importance of machine learning, deep learning and other techniques of artificial intelligence (AI) needed to translate data from these sensors into the appropriate actions required by the vehicle’s control system. More importantly, we have seen tremendous progress made in all of these areas over the past few years by various automotive OEM’s, their partners and other niche players in this growing ecosystem. Given this progress, there is now light at the end of tunnel in reducing the millions of deaths and disabilities occurring each year resulting from human error in operating vehicles.

Annual Global Road Statistics

Annual Global Road Deaths & Disabilities

Related: Who's Winning the Self-Driving Car Race

Current Challenges

However, we have also seen where these very sophisticated technologies, using extremely complex sensors and software algorithms, are still far from perfect. In certain situations, configurations or even as a result of human oversight, these intricate systems can perform inferior to humans and result in death. The Uber tragedy in Phoenix is an example of this rare, but possible, occurrence.  I say rare because we see a lot more success than failure in this endeavor, however, it seems like everyone is doing trials in Phoenix and in areas where conditions are always perfect. What will happen as these trials and deployments expand northward during the winter or where other environmental conditions are far from ideal? This problem is not only what everyone working on sensor, AI and AV technology are trying to solve, it is also the problem that will limit and delay the broad deployment of this life saving technology. Can more be done to solve these problems than just better sensors and AI algorithms?

Uber Accident

Uber Accident in Arizona

Related: Uber in Fatal Crash Detected Pedestrian but had Emergency Braking Disabled

Key Components

For an autonomous vehicle to get from point A to point B, while keeping passengers and everyone else along the journey safe, it requires many different forms of technologies and data. I already pointed out the need for accurate and reliable sensors, such as solid-state LiDAR from companies like Quanergy. I also eluded to the need for sophisticated AI to not only interpret the data (e.g., point cloud) from the sensors, but also to take the correct action based on all the split-second data being ingested from every aspect of the vehicle control system. The most notable input data comes from GPS navigation systems and high-definition maps, such as those from Telenav, required to accurately guide the vehicle to its destination.  Besides better sensors and AI algorithms mentioned before, can better vehicle position information help make these AVs even safer?

Autonomous Vehicle Sensors

Autonomous Vehicle Sensors

Related: Rising to the Challenge of Driverless Cars

Can Better GPS Help?

The Global Positioning System (GPS) used in most vehicles, smartphones, etc., today refers to the US system developed in the 1970’s by several notable scientists and engineers from the USAF, including one of Telenav’s co-founders, Dr. Bob Rennard. There has been many enhancements to this system in the past 30 years and many other Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as GLONASS, Galileo and Beidou have been deployed by other countries. However, the original GPS still has many limitation when it comes to accuracy (i.e., 2-20 meters depending on conditions) and reliability (e.g., multi-path error, obstructions) so there remains significant room for improvements. In fact, to deal with the current inaccuracies, AV engineers have had to rely more on sensor data and even more complex AI algorithms to compensate for these short-comings. Unfortunately, more complexity leads to more things that can go wrong even with the best machine learning training data and significant training time. As most scientists, engineers and even business people will tell you simplicity is best. When you can distill complexity into much simpler form, you will usually be more successful in your effort and why this is one of Proxcent's core values.

GNSS Orbits

GNSS Orbits

Related: Will I Arrive Alive?

RTK and Other GNSS Techniques Can Make AVs Safer!

Given this, is seems evident that better vehicle position data can help make AV control systems simpler and thus safer. With ongoing upgrades to the new L5 GPS signal with better coding and signal strength, and technologies like Real-Time Kinematics (RTK) using multiple signals from companies like Swift Navigation, the accuracy can be reduced to under 1 foot. These systems can also use multi-frequency (i.e., L1, L2 & L5 signals) and multi-constellation (e.g., GPS, GLONASS, Galileo) techniques to further improve accuracy and reliability. Most importantly, these new approaches to more accurate and reliable positioning data will allow AV engineers to focus using sensors and associated AI to decipher the objects and hazards around the vehicles. They will no longer have to develop significant amounts of specialized code trying to figure out where the vehicle is really located. Therefore, as we improve the quality of the GNSS data being ingested by the AV system, we can reduce the complexity of the software controlling the vehicle. As a result, AV technologist should be able to make this life-saving technology even safer and widely available sooner. I only wonder what else is just around the corner to better enable the future of transportation.

Swift Navigation AV system

Swift Navigation AV System

Related: Building an Autonomous Future Through Smart Vehicle Positioning


Can Too Much Innovation Actually Hurt Your Business?

Startup Innovation

We all know that innovation is the lifeblood of most startups. The ingenuity of uncovering and meeting unmet needs in the marketplace is crucial in creating a MVP (minimum viable product) that has any chance of getting market acceptance. However, the challenge comes when startup founders depend too much on innovation to further grow the business and neglect many of the basic business practices that will help them scale their new company. Many times the founders have an in-depth technical background which inspired their innovative concept. They are also smart enough to quickly learn the business processes required to take it to market and get funding. Due to this initial success, they sometimes feel the only way to continue business growth is to constantly innovate.

5 Stages of a Startup - Concept thru Exit

5 Stages of a Startup - Concept thru Exit

See The Nature of Business for more details.

Don’t get me wrong. All businesses need to innovate to stay competitive, but sometimes they can focus so much on it, they lose sight of the other important aspects of the business. This is an easy trap to fall into since innovation is interesting, exciting and easy to evangelize, especially for those of us with technical backgrounds. To the contrary, basic business practices like strategic marketing and efficient business processes are sometimes boring and tedious. Most of us would much rather spend time on the interesting tasks such as trying new ideas to see what works and leave the dull, painful things to others.

Related: The 8 Most Innovative Startups in 2017

Growth Challenges

This disproportionate focus on innovation usually becomes a problem in the Scaling stage of a startup, especially if they need to quickly pivot with a new product or business model. They need to be agile, but they also need to be effective and efficient if they hope to ever get to the Exit stage. Even after a startup exits via an IPO, or just gets large and profitable enough that it is no longer considered a startup, they sometimes think; “what got me here will also take me to the next level in my business evolution”.

Business Evolution - From Startup to Global Enterprise

Business Evolution - From Startup to Global Enterprise

However, even highly profitable businesses with significant cash reserves can see that success quickly dwindle if they don’t take care of the rest of the business. So what can you do to ensure your business will evolve and grow at healthy pace while still remaining profitable? As with most things in life, it’s important to maintain a good balance in your business also.

Balancing your body

Related: 12 Challenges Startup Culture Must Overcome in Order to Thrive in 2017

Balancing Business Elements

If you break a business down into the fundamental elements of Capabilities, Processes and Market (see The Nature of Business) you can see it requires a combination of capabilities (e.g., innovation, products, people, etc.) and processes (e.g., engineering, go-to-market, etc.) to satisfy customer needs and address other market conditions and opportunities.

3 of 4 Fundamental Elements of Business (with example components)

3 of 4 Fundamental Elements of Business

See Achieving Business Success for more information on all 4 Fundamental Elements and how they power your business.

More importantly, the need to carefully balance your efforts in growing and strengthening these two elements also becomes evident. In fact, the bigger a company gets, this balance between the strength of capabilities and maturity or effectiveness of processes becomes even more critical in meeting all of your customer’s needs. Let’s look at why this balance is so important using a basic science analogy.

Related: Innovation vs. Marketing: Balancing The Two Key Elements Of Business Success

You can think of balancing the strength of capabilities with the maturity of processes to be a delicate balance of forces. This would be similar to balance of gravitational forces with centrifugal forces that keeps all the planets consistently and predictably orbiting the sun.

Balance of Forces in Nature - Planets orbiting the Sun

Balance of Forces in Nature - Planets orbiting the Sun

Where process maturity could be represented by the size of central body like our sun. Similarly, the strength of capabilities could represented by the size of the planets orbiting the sun in stable elliptical orbits. If the balance is correct, then there will be enough stability in the system to address the market conditions and needs of your customers.  In summary, balancing the right strength of capabilities with the right maturity of business processes will ensure your portfolio of products, services and technologies will address existing market conditions.

The proper balance will allow Capabilities to meet Market conditions

The proper balance will allow Capabilities to meet Market conditions

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two--and only two--basic functions: marketing and innovation.” – Peter Drucker (Business Author)

If you only focus only on building strong capabilities by hiring innovative and inspired people that can design and build state-of-the-art products and services, but neglect your go-to-market or quality assurance processes, you can miss the needs of your customers altogether. Specifically, you can have the most cutting edge technology in the market, but if your go-to-market processes are not getting the word out to the right audience, then that game-changing product or technology still cannot bring value to your business. You can have more features at lower cost than your competitors, but if you cannot maintain quality or production schedules, then your existing customers will go somewhere else.

Neglecting Processes can cause a business to miss Market opportunities

Neglecting Processes can cause a business to miss Market opportunities

Consequently, an imbalance can result in lost sales opportunities, poor quality, missed deadlines, dissatisfied customers, cost overruns, low employee morale and you will spend most of your time fighting fires from all of the above. In essence, the business can become unstable where you may be orbiting and operating outside the market. In summary, focusing too much on capabilities, especially innovation, while neglecting the maturity of business processes, can cause your business to miss market opportunities and the needs of your current customers.

"Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing people." - David Packard (Hewlett-Packard)

Conversely, trying to micro-manage all your processes with the primary focus being on quality and cost control, while not growing and strengthening your capabilities, can also be a problem. This can slow things down to where you are not keeping up with the needs of the market and remaining competitive.

Neglecting Capabilities can also cause a business to miss Market opportunities

Neglecting Capabilities can also cause a business to miss Market opportunities

This disparity will have very similar results where the business spirals inward and grinds to a halt. Similarly, it can also cause missed opportunities, dissatisfied customers, employee frustration and so on. In summary, focusing too much on managing and maturing processes and neglecting capabilities, especially innovation, can also cause your portfolio to miss the needs of the current market conditions.

The key to solving this dilemma is to pay very close attention to both your capabilities and your processes and ensure you are always striking the right balance as you grow the business.

Balacing Balls

Don’t Go It Alone

This may make sense in theory, but what can you actually do to effectively manage this as your business evolves? First, you just need to be aware of this potential pitfall of business evolution. Second, if your team is weak in one of these areas, then get help where you need it the most. If you are a startup, then having an experienced advisory team should help keep you on track. If you are post-exit and find yourself struggling to stay profitable or remain competitive, then find a business expert in the area that you need the most help with. Don’t make the mistake some founders/CEO’s make by thinking it is up to them to do it all. Some think; “this company is my baby that I birthed and nurtured with sweat equity and I can continue to figure it all out”.

Businessperson keeping their balance

Always keep balance in your business and life!

As you go from creating a startup MVP to developing a large portfolio of products, services and technologies, leverage the business knowledge that is available to you and stand on the shoulders of those experts. Proxcent Transformations has experience in many of these areas and you can learn more about our Mission Specialties if you are seeking help.

Related: 3 Tips to Managing C-Suite Challenges in a Fast Growing Start-Up

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