Ground penetrating radar sounds like technology that detectives might use to find human remains underground.
Of course, it is deployed for other applications, with established construction companies using it to find pipelines and other underground features.
Also, a startup called GPR sees the technology for use in positioning systems in future autonomous vehicles. The four-year-old company, based in Somerville, Mass., was formerly known as WaveSense and recently changed its name to GPR along with announcing its third generation radar called Aegis, which is now 80% smaller and consumes less power.
GPR’s technology is contained in a box about 1 x 2 feet x 1 inch thick that rides on the underside of a vehicle. From there, using low frequency radar, it provides a 3D map of the road substructure beneath a vehicle. Because that substructure doesn’t change, it is considered more accurate than traditional radar, lidar or cameras that don’t function as well in snow or when lane markings are absent or changed, or amid weak GPS signals or when traveling off-road.
For the technology to take effect at scale, a mapping vehicle would first produce a map of the subterranean environment, then subsequent vehicles would scan the ground using the subterranean map as a reference for localization. The map would be continuously updated and expanded by user vehicles that would use the maps and also record maps, according to research from IDTechEx.
GPR CEO and co-founder Tarik Bolat told Fierce Electronics that major vehicle makers are evaluating the technology with GPR targeting two of the five largest OEMs to complete production contracts in 2022 with deployments in vehicles in 2025 to 2026.
“Nobody else is doing GPR at any kind of commercial scale,” he said in an interview. “The dynamics of the road surface are a challenge for autonomous vehicles.”
The technology will be “very inexpensive,” he added. “The design is unusual but the components are commonplace and it can scale to economy class cars. The OEMs have kicked the tires on cost at economy scale, although we’ll start in the premium segment.”
GPR currently employs 30 people and has plans to grow to 90 in disciplines as diverse as mechanical engineer to big data and cloud algorithm development, Bolat said.
He said GPR is establishing a “new design paradigm by collecting a data set nobody has ever collected.” With mapping provided by the GPR data, people will be able to drive “more safely than a human driver and that’s new design paradigm.”
The penetration of the ultra-wide ban radar is about 10 feet underground, but can be limited. Processing of the data requires a “pretty light processing footprint” that relies on the CPU in the vehicle.
GPR announced a $15 million funding round earlier in 2021 and board of directors and advisory board appointments of former Ford President Joe Hinrichs, former GM CFO Charles Stevens III and former Continental CTO Kurt Lehmann.