Access to highly exact 3D maps of the Earth, that enable cars to be able to detect objects and travel safely in unknown terrain, is currently a technology deficit in the autonomous vehicle sector. According to Tony Frazier, Maxar’s executive vice president of worldwide field operations, the company has generated high-fidelity maps for both the government and military clients and is now positioned itself to meet a growing need for similar technology in commercial areas such as driverless cars.
At the 2021 GEOINT Symposium, Frazier told SpaceNews that the auto sector is interested in high-fidelity maps to enable driverless vehicles. Maxar launched a downtown St. Louis office in the year 2019 to support its biggest client, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, that is creating Next NGA West, which is a new campus.
According to Frazier, the area is developing a dynamic geospatial industrial ecosystem “that is not just focused on supporting NGA but also larger consumer applications.” Maxar is also focusing to expand its operations and minimize its reliance on federal contracts in U.S.
According to Frazier, one of the geospatial industry’s main goals is to provide precise worldwide representations of Earth as the reference base. Following the purchase of the high-resolution 3D mapping startup Vricon in the year 2020, Maxar has accelerated its work in this field. Vricon’s 3D technology is being combined with Maxar’s high-resolution satellite imagery to create new goods.
Aircraft, cars, and ships can navigate without the GPS signals because of reliable reference mapping, as per Frazier. There are navigation methods available today which enable a pilot to be able to fly without using GPS, but they are highly manual operations that require the pilot’s full concentration.
Maxar recently showed its 3D reference mapping on the Saab Gripen jet fighter’s vision-based navigation system. Vricon was once held by Saab, which is a Swedish aerospace corporation until Maxar purchased it.
A camera on this jet filmed the webcast of its flight path during the experiment. According to Frazier, Maxar’s geo-registration program compared the broadcast to a 3D model of that area kept on the jet. The device can establish the exact location of the jet by matching sights in the Livestream to 3D data, enabling the pilot to maneuver without using GPS. As per Frazier, this was such a key demonstration that could lay the groundwork for additional widespread usage of the technology.
Meanwhile, below a $39 million U.S. Army contract originally awarded to the Vricon for the 3D worldwide terrain prototype, or even a virtual depiction of Earth which Army operators may access online for training or planning operations, Maxar is upgrading 3D mapping technology. The project’s goal, according to Frazier, is to create a “digital twin” that “digitally duplicates the physical environment.” The current contract calls for the development of a prototype. Maxar is working on finishing the prototype, according to Frazier, and expects to win a manufacturing contract soon.