Navigation and positioning system

Ref-Nr: TD2017-27

Satellite mounting the core software and electronics of the technology proposed. This is currently operational and flying at 500 km orbit.

Technology abstract

An Italian well known company working in the space market and offering satellites, satellite services, reliable satellite mechanical and electronic subsystems, ground station software and other software products, proposes a determination and control software, and the related electronics, for robots indoor or outdoor navigation. The company could supply the core hardware with software according to customer requirements and specifications; or it can license hardware and software to the customer.

The provider designs and manufacture high reliability hardware and software for space applications. Their high reliability decommissioning products have been selected by ESA as reference for European satellite autonomous decommissioning. The technology owner satellites are the zero-single-point-of-failure satellites with the lowest mass and volume on the market, and currently one of them is in orbit and fully operational.

- Alessandra Masini -

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Technology Description

The Italian company, owner of the technology herein proposed, designs and manufactures high reliability hardware and software for space applications. Their high reliability decommissioning products have been selected by ESA as reference for European satellite autonomous decommissioning. Thanks to their expertise in the field of satellite mechanical and electronic subsystems, they are proposing a determination and control software, and the enabling electronics, which can be used for vacuum cleaner robots or other automated vehicles working in indoor or outdoor environment. The system, indeed, enables robots to find their position in a 3D environment via a sensor platform and to command actuators to change attitude and move along a path. The software and electronics are modular in design: sensors and actuators can easily change with minor software coding needs. The system can be implemented with the capability to map the surrounding environment and to map the path and possible constraints. The proposed technology is currently implemented into a small and extremely reliable electronic board, in which the embedded software is coded in ADA language to maximize reliability and provide zero-bugs software environment. The software is designed to be modular, in such a way to communicate with sensors and actuators through dedicated routines and transfer functions. Current sensors include inertial platforms, gyroscopes, magnetometers and optical sensors. Current actuators include wheels and magnetotorquers. Both sensors and actuators platforms can be extended to include other means. Also the electronic hardware is designed to be modular and scalable. Although the current hardware is meant to work in space, hence it is based on flight proven components; the special design architecture allowed the use of COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) components to keep the cost as low as possible. Therefore, the flexible design allows accommodating more resilient – and expensive – components and general commercial components suitable for Earth environment or indoor environments. Furthermore, the software can be remotely reconfigured. Gains of the main control software can be changed. This feature may be fundamental, for example, if a different version of a robot has to be produced (thus different gains may be necessary) or if a software update needs to be deployed into already sold robots.

Innovations & Advantages

The core software and electronics of the technology are currently operational and flying at 500 km orbit. The main advantages of the proposed system are: • Software robustness: the core software components don’t need to be re-designed if sensors or actuators change. The algorithms currently applied for space applications, indeed, are designed to allow the used devices to work in extremely diverse situation, in satellites with parameters that can be even an order of magnitude different to each other. • Low cost: the general architecture is designed to match low cost requirements for large and volume production needs. • Modularity: evolution on sensors or actuators in future use of the technology doesn’t need a full redesign of the system. • Reliability: software is coded in ADA (although a C version is also available) and verified according to ECSS standards and under CMMI lev. 3 certification. It has to be mentioned that other vacuum cleaners navigation systems already exist; these were patented and brought successfully on the market. Nevertheless, these technologies still apply a standard approach towards system upgrades. The most updated software improvements, or bugs resolutions, are currently implemented in the new product series launched on the market. On the contrary, the remote reconfiguration approach, proposed with this technology, could revolutionise the current concepts at the basis of the appliances marketing. Moreover, the software architecture herein proposed would allow connecting the appliances also with the most used home and building automation networks; permitting the machine remote control also to the end users for the daily and weekly activity planning simply by a smartphone.

Further Information

The hardware and software herein proposed guarantee an extremely high level of reliability. The original technology, from which they’ve been derived, has been designed to match the most demanding requirements for operating in the space environment and it has been tested according to the most strict space industrial standard (ECSS and MIL for safety). Furthermore, the original system is designed to be zero-single-point-of-failure (fail safe) in order to guarantee its functionalities even in case of malfunctions. Although a degradation of quality of HW components used is possible (and recommended to keep the costs low), the overall architecture and software will still work according to the space standards.

Current and Potential Domains of Application

• Appliances: automated path development and indoor positioning for cleaning robots (e.g. vacuum cleaners, crawlers, etc.)
• Logistics systems: warehouse indoor positioning means based on single platform for the industry automatization
• Indoor security, tracking of goods, dangerous materials, persons and assets in interior, also in complex places (e.g. mining, hospitals, jails, ...)