CAMBRIDGE, MA—Ask the average person to drive a car to an unfamiliar location without GPS and the likely result is a series of wrong turns, missed roads and late arrivals. The military, which also uses GPS, operates in environments that are far less forgiving. Getting lost is not an option.
Now, there’s a capability to avoid that situation, and it’s being built on the popular Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) platform. Military units operating in GPS-denied environments will be able to establish their location with an app that gets its bearings from man-made or natural terrain features in the vicinity, like a skyline.
The project is led by Skyline Nav AI, which has secured a contract from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to provide GPS-independent localization capability for the ATAK platform. Work on the $750,000, 15-month contract began in March 2022.
Draper, a leading technology developer for national security, will integrate Skyline’s application into ATAK’s front-end. Draper is currently on contract with the U.S. Department of Defense and several government agencies to provide ongoing development, training and support for multiple TAK platforms. The company recently expanded its role to operation and maintenance of the TAK platform as part of a contract with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).
TAK is a mobile computing solution which gives users a map-based common operating picture on a shared network and provides enhanced situational awareness for command and control. Originally developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory, TAK has been tested through years of real-world use in combat situations by more than 100,000 active warfighters and civilian users. The TAK software is available as ATAK for Android devices, iTAK for Apple devices, WinTAK for Windows and WebTAK for the web.
A number of inputs are required to operate the Skyline app on ATAK. First, a user uploads an image of their surroundings. The app then compares the image to a Digital Surface Model (DSM) of the same location. To accelerate the skyline matching, the user can specify their approximate vicinity. When there is an exact match between the skyline in the image and the DSM, a location result is given. The resulting location can be compared by the user against a commercial map service for accuracy.
All of the steps of the Skyline capability can be executed on a single TAK device and shared across a network. Skyline’s proprietary algorithms are designed to analyze a range of semantic classes, including skylines, buildings, vegetations and roadways.
Brian Alligood, Draper’s program manager for TAK, said, “Equipping ATAK with Skyline’s capabilities aligns with Draper’s goal to ensure TAK continues to deliver situational awareness at the tactical edge. Draper is proud to serve with Skyline Nav AI on the AFRL contract to equip our military with technology that ensures mission readiness in GPS-denied environments.”
Skyline has worked on contracts with the Department of Defense, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and other government agencies and commercial customers.
Skyline Nav AI co-founders Rajeev Surati and Kanwar Singh said, “Offering a reliable alternate to GPS will be a critical capability in a future combat operation or domestic homeland response mission. It can lead to the difference between life or death and mission success or failure. We are grateful to work with AFRL, AFOSR, NGA and Draper to get this capability in front of our service members.”
About Skyline Nav AI
Skyline helps military and commercial entities navigate in a GPS-degraded, spoofed, and denied environment using visualization of the skyline (natural & man-made features). We provide a more robust, precise and accurate alternative to GPS. Use cases include military & commercial (autonomous vehicles, drones, air-taxis, handheld mobile app, urban canyons, ridesharing & GPS correction, mounted on vehicles, image location identification). Founded in 2020, the company has successfully completed National Security Innovation Network’s Foundry (FedTech) and Vector (DCode) programs. The company has also received support from the National Science Foundation (I-Corps program – MIT & Nationals). The company has also been selected for National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) Capital Innovators Accelerator program. Learn more: www.skylinenav.com.