Going My Way?
Engineering researchers look to improve navigation and availability of GPS

Where in the world would we be without GPS? That’s a question that Auburn University’s GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory, or GAVLAB, is making sure the nation can always answer.

Led by mechanical engineering faculty member Dr. David Bevly, the Bill and Lana McNair Distinguished Professor, and assistant professor Dr. Scott Martin, GAVLAB focuses on navigation and positioning, in addition to vehicle dynamics and controls, with much of its research intersecting those domains.

Though frequently making headlines for its internationally-renowned work in autonomous vehicle navigation — GAVLAB students comprising the Autonomous Tiger Racing team made history in 2021 by completing the first autonomous circuit of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an Indy Lights race car — some of its higher stakes expertise centers on new systems that provide mission-critical Assured Position, Navigation and Timing, or APNT, capabilities regardless of GPS access.

“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.”

Martin, who earned both his mechanical engineering master’s and doctorate degrees from Auburn, is one of more than 50 GAVLAB alums working in PNT and Assured PNT across the country.

“The GAVLAB has a strong history of mission-critical Assured PNT research and development as well as unique connections with a wide range of APNT customers and stakeholders,” said GAVLAB Director David Bevly, who started the lab upon his arrival at Auburn in 2001. “Over the past five years, we’ve conducted nearly $5 million worth of Assured PNT research for government entities.”

That research involves partnerships with the American Center for Mobility, the University of Michigan – Dearborn, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Michigan Department of Transportation. Additionally, the GAVLAB has supported Federal Highway Administration on Exploratory Advanced Research projects, including localization projects. There’s also the six years and $8.3 million worth of truck platooning research and development, plus 300 hours of testing and demonstrations on both controlled tracks and public roads. Research vehicles include several by-wire and automated vehicles, including two Peterbilt tractors, a drive-by-wire Lincoln MKZ, an autonomous ATV and an autonomous Indy Light car. Core capabilities include design and implementation of software-defined GPS receivers for improved reliability in difficult signal tracking environments; multi-sensor navigation systems; camera-based navigation systems using visible-light and infrared cameras for visual odometry and map matching; deep learning for trajectory classification and predictive object tracking; model-predictive control for automated driving; and model-based simulation tools.

“PNT remains a critical aspect of government and even many civilian intelligent systems such as automated driving technologies, recreational drones and personal navigation systems,” Bevly said. “While GPS remains an enabling technology for PNT, interference sources from buildings or RF interference threaten its availability. We’re working on those key areas of need within the government and civilian sectors — systems that can provide Assured PNT in all environments.”