Validating PNT performance of the Aurora Snowbox intelligent road

Soon autonomous cars will be tested under Arctic conditions in Lapland, but first we must determine the quality of the Finnish-Norwegian test section. If the test section is top class, car manufacturers will start using it.

In March 2018, positioning experts from Finnish Geospatial Research Institute (FGI) will perform a week-long data recording and testing along the Aurora Snowbox intelligent road as part of the Arctic-Positioning Navigation and Timing (PNT) project. For this they will use the VTT experimental autonomous car, called Martti. They will also briefly travel across the border into Norway to record data along the Norwegian test section Borealis.

– The objective is to gather as much data as possible from the different sensors and signal transmitters deployed at Snowbox. Analysis of this data will allow us to determine just how good Snowbox is as an Arctic test site for future autonomous cars, says Research Manager Sarang Thombre, the project manager of the Arctic-PNT project at Finnish Geospatial Research Institute (FGI).

Combining data from all possible sources

The recorded data will include satellite-based navigation signals (GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, BeiDou, and EGNOS), correction messages transmitted by the nearby stations of the FinnRef and CPOS networks, signals from ultra-wideband (UWB) beacons deployed along Snowbox, scanned images for high-definition maps, and data from the Martti's on-board sensors such as inertial sensors, wheel sensors, odometer, laser scanner LiDAR, camera, and radar.

The recorded data will then be processed using special software including the positioning and navigation receiver FGI-GSRx developed by FGI’s Dept. of Navigation and Positioning. Comparative studies of positioning accuracy and availability of the navigation solution using different combinations of the recorded signals will be performed. Finally, recommendations will be made towards improvement of existing infrastructure.

– Everyone understands how important positioning is for autonomous vehicles. Not that many have taken into account how much we demand from the technology for it to replace the driver. You don’t have to look further than to ice-covered roads or windy road passages in the mountains to understand the task we are facing, says Stefan Söderholm, the Research Group Leader of SARANA from FGI.

Lapland is a unique test environment

The E8 highway has two test sections, Snowbox and Borealis. The Finnish Transport Agency’s test section Snowbox is situated in Muonio. It is a 10-kilometer intelligent road that is composed of physical infrastructure such as electricity and fiber connections, information services, sensors, and also includes a 3D virtual map of the area. In addition, accurate positioning up to centimeter-level is possible in the area with the help of the positioning service provided by the National Land Survey and the Finnish national GNSS reference network FinnRef.

Borealis is in Norway, close to the Finnish border. It is a 40-kilometer-long national test section where the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA) tests and develops Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). On several spots along this road the NPRA has installed high-tech equipment for themselves and others to use.

Top class infrastructure and experts

Finland has state-of-the-art infrastructure installed along the Snowbox test section. This, coupled with a commitment to innovation and availability of skilled experts makes it an ideal breeding ground for new solutions that may someday be used in autonomous cars. For example, FGI studies how to navigate using only camera images, and VTT has developed a range of experimental autonomous vehicles by fixing different sensors and electronic equipment to ordinary passenger vehicles.

Members of the Aurora Network also include technology companies. These companies develop communication, sensing, and navigation solutions applicable in future autonomous cars.

Rigorous testing brings trust

Autonomous cars must be proven trustworthy before the general public will want to buy them. Trust can be built by rigorous testing of new technology to remove any faults that may endanger the lives of the people using it. For this reason, a considerable portion of the research and development funding is devoted to the testing of autonomous cars under diverse weather and traffic conditions.

– Car manufacturers want to know how good the overall infrastructure at a test site is before bringing over their expensive equipment and personnel. Our testing will provide an idea of what resources are available at Snowbox and hopefully show that their performance is on par with the best in the world. We want to be able to tell car manufacturers to come to Finland and Lapland if they wish to test their autonomous cars on a world-class Arctic test site! Thombre explains.

More information

Research Manager, D.Sc. (Tech.) Sarang Thombre, +358 50 573 8947, firstname.lastname@nls.fi

The Arctic-PNT project is funded by the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA’s overall objective is to improve European know-how in the field of autonomous cars and to study how European space-based positioning and navigation infrastructure, such as Galileo and EGNOS, can contribute to enhancing scientific innovation and consequently business opportunities in this field.

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