Array Labs is Harnessing Space Technology to Enhance Autonomous Vehicles’ Mapping Capabilities

By Sophia Francise

August 8, 2023

Silicon-based start-up Array Labs has rolled out a plan to use leverage technological advancements in its mission to create a 3D map of the Earth.

According to Array’s CEO, Andrew Peterson, the revolution in scientific computing has opened up new possibilities allowing them to use computation gains, like in advanced graphics processors (GPUs) and radar software development.

Peterson, who is an aerospace engineer and has previously worked for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Moog’s space and defense division, said, “If we could take all of this superpower that we were seeing in radar and scientific computing, and you could couple that with really low-cost satellites . . . there’s probably a really, really interesting way to do a new type of Earth observation.”

The company plans to use the  “multistatic radar,” technique which involves flying clusters of radar satellites in low Earth orbit to image the same place at the same time. 

They will capture imagery of the same place from different perspectives, allowing them to capture a full, high-resolution 3D digital record of the world.1

According to the company, the result will be high-resolution 3D data to be used by driverless vehicle fleets, AR headsets, insurance analytics, and national security applications.

Using Space-Based Radar to Generate Global 3D Imagery

The first trial for using space-based radar to generate global 3D imagery was done in 2003 by the Air Force Research Lab. 

Their plan was to launch a program called TechSat 21, but it was handicapped by limitations in computing, such as solving the bandwidth problem where there wasn’t enough bandwidth to store all the data the radar would generate.

“The system that they had come up with was ten spinning hard drives that are all rated together. It weighed maybe 20 pounds and took 150 watts [of power]. Now, something the size of my thumbnail has 100 times more performance and 100 times less cost,” said Peterson.

Array plans to launch clusters of satellites, each consisting of around a couple of dozen satellites; the eventual goal is to launch and operate 10 to 20 clusters. 

But even a single cluster will be capable of capturing 5% of the world’s surface, which accounts for 95% of the world’s population, every two weeks, Peterson said. 

Array will launch its first test satellite, which is the first in a series of test satellites designed to de-risk different aspects of the company’s technology iteratively, on a SpaceX ride-share mission next year

At the moment, they are conducting ground tests where the 10-person team sets up an indoor radio frequency (RF) test range to prove its image formation algorithms and software before the first launch.

References

  1. Aria Alamalhodaei, ‘Array Labs is scanning Earth from space to equip autonomous vehicles with 3D maps’, TechCrunch, 7 August 2023, https://techcrunch.com/2023/08/07/array-labs-is-scanning-the-earth-from-space-to-power-autonomous-vehicles-with-3d-maps/[]
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