Australian researchers and industry partners are joining forces to develop, design and manufacture the next generation of optical gyroscopes for high-precision autonomous navigation in a new $8.7 million project.
The development of autonomous vehicles in recent years has resulted in numerous technological breakthroughs, with the deployment of ultrahigh-performance (UHP) gyroscopes set to enhance such vehicles’ performance in terms of safety and guidance. UHP gyroscopes can already be found in a wide range of industries — including infrastructure management, mining, space sciences, agriculture and defence — but their price remains prohibitive for mainstream usage, with a single unit averaging US$20,000.
The new project is set to develop a new standard for optical gyroscopes, improving their precision while substantially reducing their cost and size. It is being led by navigation systems manufacturer Advanced Navigation — the recipient of a $2.8 million Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) Grant — in partnership with the Australian National University (ANU), RMIT University and Corridor Insights.
Chris Shaw, CEO of Advanced Navigation, said the project would establish Australia as “a leading manufacturer of high-performance, cost-effective navigation solutions”. At the core of this endeavour is technology developed by the ANU Department of Quantum Science; a technique dubbed ‘digital interferometry’, which combines advanced signal processing with precision optics to create ultrahigh-resolution measurements using light.
ANU researcher Chathura Bandutunga explained, “We use digital signal processing to encode the lightwaves we use for our measurement. This encoding allows us to enhance the sensitivity of our instruments to rotation.” While initially developed for measuring gravitational waves in spaceborne gravitational wave detectors, the ANU team has adapted the technology to find a second home in optical gyroscopes.
In parallel, researchers at RMIT’s Integrated Photonics and Applications Centre (InPAC) are undertaking leading research in creating photonic chips — miniaturised optical components, enabling large experiments to be put into a much smaller package. As explained by RMIT Distinguished Professor Arnan Mitchell, “The clever signal processing developed at ANU allows us to tell apart tiny signals from noise, and our photonic chip technology enables all that functionality to fit on a chip the size of a fingernail.
“By compressing the light detection technology onto a photonic chip, we can shrink ultrahigh-performance gyroscopes from the size of a bread box to the size of a coffee cup.”
Taking these research ideas through to the field, commercial partner Corridor Insights will pilot the next generation of optical gyroscope in autonomous infrastructure management, looking for early detection of defects and faults in Australia’s rail network.
“This presents a great opportunity to bring the R&D strengths in instrumentation science located right here in the Canberra region to the forefront,” ANU Associate Professor Jong Chow concluded.
Top image is taken from a sensor system mounted on a train. The new ultrahigh-performance gyroscopes will be integrated with existing imaging systems to map the precise position of objects around rail lines — one of the many potential applications of the technology.