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How big businesses fly drones without GPS

Here’s one solution for flying drones without GPS: it’s called the Robust Navigation System, and it’s a resilient navigation solution designed for drones that could enable them to complete critical missions under GPS-challenged and denied environments.

The system comprises three technologies: GPS anti-jamming technology, an Inertial System and a Radar Velocity System. Together, they’re combined into what its creators claim is the first-ever fully resilient navigation system for allowing drones to fly even in GPS-challenged environments. 

That project was initially announced this summer as part of the AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2021 conference in Atlanta, Georgia. And it’s already operational.

Why this Robust Navigation System is a big deal

Drones are used for a lot more than just photography. Among the biggest use cases for drones includes high-stakes commercial and military operations. The challenge: most commercial drones — whether a 20-lb multicopter or a 150-lb fixed wing UAV — rely almost entirely on GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) for basic navigation, particularly for BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line Of Sight) and autonomous operations.

But GNSS signals can be weak, and drones are susceptible to jamming attacks. In fact, such attacks can be carried out from large distances using simple, cheap jammers bought online.

Most enterprise or commercial drone pilots these days use tactics including adding sensors (such as LiDAR or optical sensors). They can certainly be useful in many scenarios but not all. Many don’t work in situations such as when flying too high, too low, too fast, in fog, in darkness, and above sea.

This Robust Navigation System is a project jointly developed by Honeywell and infiniDome. infiniDome is a GPS Security Company that provides front-end cyber solutions for drones, fleets, and critical infrastructure assets. Meanwhile, Honeywell Aerospace builds products and services found on a myriad of commercial, defense and space aircraft. 

This latest system built by the two companies combines the GNSS-based UAV-tailored Honeywell Compact Inertial Navigation System (HCINS) with infiniDome’s GPS anti-jamming technology (GPSdome), integrated with Honeywell’s Radar-based Velocity System (HRVS). 

The single system can then be installed on almost drone and nearly any standard flight controller (such as a Pixhawk controller). With it, it supposedly is able to provide continuous, accurate navigation data in GNSS-challenged or fully GNSS-denied environments.

The Robust Navigation System in action

The system was put to the test in November 2021 as part of a trial held in Israel conducted in a partnership by infiniDome, Honeywell, and Easy Aerial. That third company, Easy Aerial, is a provider of autonomous drone-based monitoring solutions for government, enterprise and defense applications. This trial had a particular military focus, and Israeli defense primes, drone and UAV manufacturers and government end-users were in attendance.

In the test, which was held at a testing range in the center of Israel, two military-grade directional jammers consisting of different types and bandwidths were used to jam the navigation system of an Easy Aerial Osprey Hexa-copter operating with a PixHawk 2.1 Cube Black.

The test featured a “control” of sorts, too. An unprotected drone was used as comparison. When attacked by the same jammers, that drone lost position within 3-5 second, tilted at an aggressive angle and took off in seconds in a random direction. The only way to avoid it drifting kilometers away and eventually crashing was by taking manual control and visually bringing it back.

The test’s purpose? To show that a drone protected by the Robust Navigation System — and under both a GPS challenged environment via single direction of jamming as well as a fully denied environment via multiple directions of powerful jamming by military-grade jammers — can perform BVLOS and autonomous tasks accurately and safely without needing to assume manual control of the drone.

The companies claim their test was a success, and that the drone — protected by the Robust Navigation System solution — passed all planned tests, proven that in a GNSS-challenged environment and even in full GNSS-denied environment, drones can complete autonomous missions and safely return home for landing.



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