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Both autonomous vehicles (AVs) and the urban air mobility (UAM) sector depend heavily on the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS). As a result, they are potentially vulnerable to ‘jamming’. That’s why the Israeli GPS security company infiniDome has developed a number of solutions designed to protect wireless communications from ‘jamming attacks’.
Omer Sharar, infiniDome’s CEO, has been talking to Auto Futures. He started off by explaining why GPS needs to be protected from jamming.
“The GPS satellite system is comprised of 24 active (and a few more inactive) satellites orbiting earth at a height of app. 20, 200km above ground,” says Sharar.
“The signals received here on earth by the vehicles/servers/drones are extremely weak (about the equivalent energy received in NYC from a 20W lightbulb lit up in LA) and therefore all one must do to jam it is transmit something (anything really) slightly more powerful than their signals (which today could be done using a $50 jammer bought online).”
“This same jammer, which is sometimes used to bring down drones from mid-air (intentional jamming) or sometimes used to hide a truck driver’s location from his boss (unintentional jamming), blocks any GPS-based system around them for 10’s and sometimes 100’s of meters,” he explains.
The company’s first product, GPSdome, was initially developed as a proof of concept to showcase GPS protection. It was quickly adopted by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and is mounted on drones on the country’s borders.
However, the company received many requests for GPS protection in the logistics and transportation sectors. InfiniDome subsequently released a non-military version of GPSdome called OtoSphere.
“It provides protection and support only for non-military frequency bands and, when combined with infiniDome’s GPS-attack monitoring solution and patented cellular antenna, it is a great solution for the cargo transportation industry, providing the first ‘Resilient Truck Connectivity’ solution in the market.”
As cars become more complex and automated, they are also becoming more vulnerable to malicious attacks.
“Autonomous Vehicles, like any other complicated computer-based system, are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. However, to perform these attacks, especially with the advances in cyber protection in the automotive space in recent years, one must need very sophisticated equipment and knowledge.
“We are seeing GPS as a common thread that is weaved through all systems in the autonomous vehicle. And attacking it, whether by blocking it completely or ‘tricking’ it with false data, is a great Achilles heel in the AV design,” says Sharar.
“AVs do not only use GPS to get from point A to point B but rather use it to actually calibrate and synchronize all other sensors in the vehicles, as well as enable any and all communications of the vehicles to the world (V2V, V2X),” he adds.
OtoSphere ensures the continuity of services, operations and navigation for AVs during a jamming attack. Sharar believes that the problem is a systematic one that cannot be solved by simply ‘slapping on a band aid’ in the form of a new LiDAR sensor etc.
“It must be solved by making the GPS systems more resilient on one hand, and getting real-time data of any zones at which GPS attacks are taking place to be able to efficiently avoid them. Another solution we are working on enables exactly that. GPSensors (a small stand-alone IoT sensor that we are developing) can be deployed in specific zones and on vehicles themselves collecting and transmitting any GPS attack data to our proprietary GPS attack monitoring cloud called infiniCloud,” he says.
InfiniDome’s technology is also being put to good use in the UAM sector. Much like the AV space, UAM depends heavily on GPS, not only for navigation but quite literally to stay in the air.
“When talking about the commercial delivery drone ecosystem, today, GPS jamming paralyzes its entire operation and viability. When talking about the ‘Air Taxis’ we’re looking at in the future, much like commercial aviation, it will require the highest standards of safety and will include a multitude of sensors to be protected.”
“For both of these markets, we are teaming up with Honeywell, our partner, and investor, to create joint solutions, combining infiniDome’s anti-jamming technology and Honeywell’s inertial navigation systems and Velocity Aiding Systems thus creating a ‘robust navigation’ solution making sure these vehicles stay in the air,” adds Sharar.
“I strongly believe that the ‘autonomous’ challenge will be first solved in the air.”
In April, 2021, the company announced the closure of a funding round worth $2.4 Million that includes investments from Next Gear Ventures, the investor which led infiniDome’s earlier seed funding round, along with Honeywell Ventures. The proceeds will help scale infiniDome’s customer engagements in the Commercial Aircraft and UAM sectors.
“The first and foremost use of the funds will be to deliver our two leading projects with our next gen GPSdome 2 – for one of the leading Israel defense industries as well as one of the US DoD branches. We will expand the team, both R&D, customer success, and engineering as we will be looking at optimizing and bettering our manufacturing capabilities in the near future,” says Sharar.
Matt Picchetti, Vice President and General Manager of Honeywell’s navigation and sensors business, comments: “This is a strategic investment for Honeywell as we see GPS protection as a critical complement to our inertial navigation capabilities. Customers require more robust navigation architectures, and we intend to cooperate with infiniDome to build joint solutions that will revolutionize resilient navigation.”
Finally, we asked Sharar for his vision on what mobility and UAM in cities will look like by 2030.
“The COVID pandemic had shown us the importance and criticality of ‘human-less deliveries. This had performed as a catalyst for the commercial drone ecosystem as well as escalated the importance for driverless taxis. We are still far away today but I strongly believe that the ‘autonomous’ challenge will be first solved in the air than on the ground (less of a clutter) and therefore I do believe that before 2030, more than 50% of all deliveries will be done by autonomous drones.
“Cities, being dense and without appropriate landing sites will always be a challenge, and therefore the first operating sites will be in suburbs way before the industry and regulators solve deliveries in high-rise buildings,” he adds.
“In regards to ground mobility, AVs have been pushed and pushed against every time a Tesla, running on AV Level 3, has a crash. It is a huge market but I believe that, ironically, solving this problem on the ground (with the greater congestion and pedestrians) is way tougher than in the air, and therefore private and public ‘air taxi’ rides will most likely start happening before 2030 – starting with manned, and then going unmanned,” predicts Sharar.