DARPA pushes forward with navigation sensor fusion initiative to reduce dependence on GPS

ARLINGTON, Va., 17 June 2012. Navigation and guidance experts at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., are asking industry to develop a prototype system for land, sea, and airborne applications that can accept inputs from several kinds of navigation sensors so that warfighters can maintain navigation capability with or without Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation.

DARPA released a broad agency announcement (DARPA-BAA-12-45) last week for the second phase of the All Source Positioning and Navigation (ASPN) program, which seeks to develop algorithms and a prototype sensor-fusion system to enable low cost navigation for military users on any operational platform and in any environment, with or without GPS.

DARPA awarded first-phase ASPN contracts last spring to the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., and to Argon ST Inc. in Fairfax, Va. In the first phase of ASPN, Draper Lab and Argon ST experts focused on developing navigation algorithms, and a navigation software architecture. Draper Lab's contract was for $599,923, and Argon ST's contract was for $1.9 million.

The initial phase of ASPN concentrated on developing the architectures, abstraction method, and navigation filtering algorithms necessary for rapid navigation sensors integration and reconfiguration.

The second phase of the ASPN program continues algorithm development, and seeks to build a prototype ASPN system for demonstration and evaluation. DARPA wants a contractor not only to develop real-time algorithms, but also to field these algorithms on size-, weight-, and power (SWaP)-representative prototype hardware able to accept an arbitrary set of inputs, regardless of native application of the sensors used.

Most current navigation systems rely on a combination of GPS, inertial measurement unit (IMU), and sometimes other navigation sensors to provide accurate positioning and navigation information, DARPA researchers explain.

Military navigation systems designers want to improve their systems by combining different sensors, such as laser rangers, cameras, and magnetometers. The problem, however, is today's navigation sensors usually have custom filtering for their specific sensors, and are not readily adaptable to new capabilities and threats.

The ASPN program seeks to develop new navigation sensor fusion technology that can accommodate any combination of sensors in a plug-and-play fashion to create robust positioning and navigation technology in the face of new battlefield conditions and missions, while reducing costs.

In phase-one of the ASPN program, Draper Lab and Argon ST experts showed that an adaptable, plug-and-play capability for navigation systems is achievable, DARPA researchers say. The second phase seeks to bring this technology to the next level.

Companies interested in bidding the next phase of the ASPN program should send proposals to DARPA no later than 10 Aug. 2012. Proposal abstracts are due by 21 June 2012 -- just four days away.

For questions or concerns contact the DARPA ASPN coordinator by e-mail at DARPA-BAA-12-45@darpa.mil.

More information is online at https://www.fbo.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/DARPA-BAA-12-45/listing.html.

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