The global automotive navigation market was valued at US$23.3bn in 2020 and is projected to reach US$34.7bn by 2026, according to ResearchAndMarkets. The demand for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and the increasing adoption of connected cars are the primary factors driving this growth. This is expected to go hand-in-hand with greater demand for advanced navigation solutions—such as 3D mapping and predictive analytics—that can help autonomous vehicles (AVs) navigate complex environments more efficiently and safely.
One company looking to change the sphere of navigation is FocalPoint. Founded in 2015 by Ramsey Faragher, the company’s technology has been designed to address some of the most pressing challenges in modern navigation, such as route optimisation, real-time traffic updates, and personalised recommendations.
Once dubbed “The real-life Q” by Top Gear, Faragher is an expert in global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) positioning. FocalPoint’s innovations have been awarded The Duke of Edinburgh’s Navigation Award for Outstanding Technical Achievement from the Royal Institute of Navigation. Alongside Faragher, Scott Pomerantz is leading efforts to revolutionise the industry. His company, Global Locate, won the race to bring GPS to the mass consumer smartphone market, supplying the first GPS chips to companies like Apple and Samsung, before being acquired by Broadcom for US$250m. Pomerantz was so impressed by Faragher’s innovation, Supercorrelation, that he came out of retirement to become Chief Executive of FocalPoint.
Supercorrelation is FocalPoint’s patented, chipset-level software product for mobiles, wearables and vehicles that revolutionises positioning in urban environments. Supercorrelation is designed for the modern system-on-a-chip silicon architecture used by all consumer GNSS receivers and combines sensor fusion, machine learning and signal processing. “FocalPoint has decoded the DNA of the GPS signal,” Pomerantz tells Automotive World.
The technology allows users to calculate the signal’s angle of arrival using only the software. “No one’s been able to see that before; it’s like having an expensive, bulky multi-element antenna on a roof pointing at all dishes at all the different satellites and just looking in the direction of each,” says Faragher. Instead of having the antenna system, it’s all software inside the chip: “We don’t need to change the antennas or the chip. We just put some intelligent software inside the chip.” Compared to a standard GPS system, it boasts ten-times more accuracy in urban settings.
“Our technology works in all environments,” says Pomerantz. “Because we’re a chip-level technology, there doesn’t need to be complex infrastructure.” He notes that typical hardware systems using LiDAR, radar, camera systems, and gyros will be affected by bad weather, which can corrupt readings. Because Supercorrelation works via software, this issue can be mitigated.
Pomerantz emphasises that FocalPoint has solved the most significant problem within GPS: multipath. Multipathing is a phenomenon that occurs when GPS signals bounce off buildings, trees, or other obstacles before reaching the receiver, creating multiple signal paths. This can cause errors in the GPS position calculation, which can be particularly problematic for AVs, where accurate positioning is critical for safe and reliable operation. The receiver may calculate the position based on the wrong set of signals or be unable to determine which signals to use accurately. “As a result, we can look at the measurement and discern if it’s a reflected or multipath situation or a pure signal.”
We want to make multiple sensors on that platform that are cheaper, lighter, smaller and better than the ones being used today
Another problem with multipathing is that it can lead to signal interference: signals that are out of phase can cancel each other out and disrupt the GPS calculation. This can be particularly problematic in urban environments, where buildings and other obstacles can directly cause interference.
Other disruptions in GPS can also threaten the cyber security of autonomous driving. Hackers can perform two kinds of attacks: spoofing and jamming. Spoofing is when fabricated signals outwit the GPS receiver, and as a result, the vehicle can be dragged in the wrong direction. LiDAR can also be readily attacked since it is always active. The bad actor could, for example, launch attacks on all the sensors in an AV, impacting obstacle and lane detection and sign recognition. Jamming involves using stronger signals to ensure the AV receives no GPS signal. This type of attack is easier to notice since the AV abruptly changes direction.
Preventing the jamming signal from reaching the GNSS receiver is vital to interference mitigation. To this end, controlled reception pattern antenna (CRPA) anti-jam systems have proven highly effective in preventing these attacks. FocalPoint’s solution can achieve the same effect but more cost-effectively. “We’re essentially replacing the CRPA, which would cost about US$10,000 if automakers were allowed to buy them for civilian purposes, which they’re not,” says Faragher.
The issue with vehicle automation, he continues, is that many try to solve problems simply by investing large sums of money in a solution. With the addition of LiDARs, cameras, radars and a host of other sensors, it can be easy for the cost of these technologies to cost more than the car itself. “At that point, it’s simply unsustainable at scale in the consumer sector. Automakers can’t suddenly start charging four times more for a car because it has a few extra sensors,” says Faragher.
As such, an ongoing issue for these developments is the cost reduction of those components. “We try to maintain the same abilities by adding clever software to low-cost hardware and effectively upgrading it beyond normal capabilities,” he continues. Faragher notes that FocalPoint’s software inside the chip will significantly reduce costs. “It synthesises an incredibly complicated, heavy and expensive antenna that isn’t a necessity, but we can still provide those results.”
Our aim is that Supercorrelation will be in much more than GNSS receivers in the future
Supercorrelation then allows FocalPoint to detect spoofed GPS signals and contact local authorities. In addition to saving lives, a benefit of this high detection level could be lower insurance premiums. “If there is an incident during autonomous driving and the insurance companies can prove that there were bad actors out there spoofing the situation that caused this to happen, then there’s an opportunity for a great reduction in liability insurance and expenses,” says Pomerantz.
It is no surprise, then, that FocalPoint has been able to leverage GM’s vast resources and expertise to accelerate the development of the automaker’s navigation solutions. Announced in January 2023, the collaboration will focus on the technology’s applications in future vehicles, including the potential enhancement and expansion of its Super Cruise advanced hands-free driving assistance technology and upcoming Ultra Cruise ADAS. “This collaboration with FocalPoint targets a specific aspect of the ongoing expansion of Super Cruise and Ultra Cruise going forward,” says GM President Kent Helfrich.
“Our work with GM is going to not only look at Supercorrelation for GPS to improve their positioning, but we’ll also collaborate on collision-avoidance radars and other sensors on the vehicle,” says Faragher.
Similarly, FocalPoint has also secured funding from the European Space Agency’s Navigation Innovation and Support Program (NAVISP) programme to develop a live demonstration and rapid prototyping system to accelerate its activities in the automotive and mobility sectors. “Our aim is that Supercorrelation will be in much more than GNSS receivers in the future. We want to make multiple sensors on that platform that are cheaper, lighter, smaller and better than the ones being used today,” concludes Faragher.