KEF Robotics to Provide GPS-Denied Navigation Over the Open Ocean

KEF Robotics aims to provide onboard navigation that is accurate, unjammable, and low cost to the U.S. Army as a critical capability sought by groups throughout the Department of Defense By Abi Wylie / 16 Feb 2024
KEF Robotics to Provide GPS-Denied Navigation Over the Open Ocean
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KEF Robotics has been selected to implement novel navigation solutions for ocean-crossing aircraft through a $1.9M Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) award from the Army.

The work specifically targets aircraft operating and navigating without GPS, using small, lightweight sensors, and leveraging machine-learning powered improvements methods such as inertial dead reckoning and horizon-scale landmark recognition.

Onboard navigation that is accurate, unjammable, and low cost is a critical capability sought by groups throughout the Department of Defense. This technology could allow squadrons of low-cost aircraft to navigate large distances over open water, a critical need for aircraft fleets of the scale envisioned by programs such as the Pentagon’s Replicator Initiative.

CTO Eric Amoroso, who leads navigation developments at KEF and will head the effort, noted; “We’ve been working on ‘barebones’ approaches to aircraft navigation for years, but the Pacific certainly pushes the limits of the possible due to its lack of landmarks and massive scale. When you add in the cost and SWaP constraints we’re chasing, that only amplifies the challenge.”

Navigation for GPS-denied environments ranks among the highest technical priorities in the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) theater, where sustained air support and resupply will be crucial during a conflict, and GPS-denied operations may be the norm. 

A huge expanse that includes more than half of the earth’s surface, INDOPACOM contains vast stretches of ocean with a near total lack of recognizable features and communication systems often used as navigational aids. 

While the military’s large, exquisite platforms can take advantage of high-grade sensors to propagate their position without GPS, conflict in the INDOPACOM could represent a war of attrition against an adversary capable of denying the military’s most expensive assets. As such, navigation solutions that are suitable for lower-cost aircraft are needed. 

“We spend a lot of time thinking about how we can get to our costs to a point that the DoD can scale them across 10’s or even 100’s of thousands of heterogeneous aircraft,” said Fraser Kitchell, CEO of KEF Robotics.

KEF will investigate and implement navigation techniques based on a variety of phenomena. The company’s heritage in leveraging machine learning-based approaches to amplify traditional navigational methods is a key focus of the effort. “Navigation over open water is a capability that we’re investing in heavily.  This selection gives us a chance to change the game in the Pacific theater and offer operators a capability they’ve never had at this price point,” said Kitchell.  

Posted by Abi Wylie Connect & Contact