the race is also played in space

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The information is from the beginning of June. Geespace, Geely’s aerospace subsidiary – owner of Volvo – has launched its first satellites from China. It is planning a first phase of 72 satellites in low orbit by 2025, knowing that it aims to have 240 in the long term.

These satellites will be used in part for the brand’s autonomous vehicles. They will guarantee an accuracy of the order of one centimeter, as well as the connection that is essential for automation of driving. It is likely that the other brands in the group, including Volvo, will benefit from this contribution from heaven. Geely’s ambition is to even offer these services to other customers. The Chinese group called them PPP (Precise Point Positioning) and RTK (Real-Time Kinematic Services), respectively.

Geely thinks of the car, but not only. The logistics sector is also very interested in very precise positioning, as are the drones and mapping sector. Geely even plans to play a role in the Asian Games (similar to the Olympic Games on this continent). The Chinese giant first plans to take care of its home country and Asia before expanding its influence to the rest of the world after 2026.

The Volkswagen Group is also preparing for it

A few months earlier, L’Express had revealed that Porsche was planning to invest two billion euros in a similar constellation of satellites.

This is, of course, a project involving the entire Volkswagen Group. It is owned by Porsche SE (Porsche Automobil Holding SE), the Stuttgart-based holding company which owns the majority of the Volkswagen shares. This European company invests in mobility (especially traffic-related solutions) and industrial technologies.

A priori, the partner in this space project is Isar Aerospace, a German satellite launch based near Munich, which the holding company invested in in 2021. The goal is to overtake Tesla, which could benefit from the contribution of Space X and its constellation. of Starlink satellites. This is used to provide high speed internet, but it can also make it possible to provide services in the field of mobility, for trains, trucks and motorhomes (but a priori, not cars).

In any case, it should be noted that both Geely and Starlink make it a point of honor to limit waste in space.

Satellites: a global network, but with limited precision

To position itself, vehicles – like smartphones and many other related objects – receive position data from GPS satellites (Global Positioning System).

Twenty-four in number, and located at an altitude of 20,000 km, they were launched in 1973 for military purposes originally by the U.S. Army. They have been open to civilians since 1995 and have greatly contributed to the success of navigation applications. But the precision is only in the order of 10 m.

At the end of the last century, Europe decided to launch its own constellation, called Galileo. To date, 26 satellites have been launched (of which 22 are operational) and there will be 30 by 2024. The announced accuracy is 4 m on the ground.

It should also be noted that the Russians have launched the Glonass constellation and that the Chinese have their Beidou network. In principle, the receiving systems that guide vehicles are compatible with signals from all these satellites, the general term is GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System).

Options

In the absence of more precise signals, there are alternatives.

In 2018, at CES in Las Vegas, French manufacturers presented the PPP technology (for Precise Point Positioning), whose special feature is to calculate a position within a few centimeters using only data from orbits and precise clocks connected to a single receiver . by data fusion. This project has been developed by the company Geoflex using technology from CNES (National Center for Space Studies). It had merged with YoGoKo (specialist in communication solutions for mobility), the French SME Sysnav (navigation solutions in extreme environments) and the Institute for Energy Transition Vedecom.

We do not hear much about this solution anymore. But Geoflex still believes in it and talks about hyper geolocation for cars. Its system was recently honored in connection with a challenge organized by Software République (an organization created by Renault and partners), after being well received in China and Dubai. The company, based in Massy-Palaiseau, near Paris, promises an accuracy of 4 cm.

Tesla, for its part, would consider circumventing the absence of GPS signals by relying on the images the cameras return and on the basis of wheel movements (and on an inertia unit) to continue to ensure the guidance of the vehicles.

To summarize

Porsche and Geely could use their own constellation of satellites to facilitate the arrival of the autonomous car. However, there are other solutions to improve accuracy.

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