BabelFuse data fusion unit with precision wireless clock synchronisation

Cadell, Philip (2012) BabelFuse data fusion unit with precision wireless clock synchronisation. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


A significant issue encountered when fusing data received from multiple sensors is the accuracy of the timestamp associated with each piece of data. This is particularly important in applications such as Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM) where vehicle velocity forms an important part of the mapping algorithms; on fastmoving vehicles, even millisecond inconsistencies in data timestamping can produce errors which need to be compensated for. The timestamping problem is compounded in a robot swarm environment due to the use of non-deterministic readily-available hardware (such as 802.11-based wireless) and inaccurate clock synchronisation protocols (such as Network Time Protocol (NTP)). As a result, the synchronisation of the clocks between robots can be out by tens-to-hundreds of milliseconds making correlation of data difficult and preventing the possibility of the units performing synchronised actions such as triggering cameras or intricate swarm manoeuvres.

In this thesis, a complete data fusion unit is designed, implemented and tested. The unit, named BabelFuse, is able to accept sensor data from a number of low-speed communication buses (such as RS232, RS485 and CAN Bus) and also timestamp events that occur on General Purpose Input/Output (GPIO) pins referencing a submillisecondaccurate wirelessly-distributed "global" clock signal. In addition to its timestamping capabilities, it can also be used to trigger an attached camera at a predefined start time and frame rate. This functionality enables the creation of a wirelessly-synchronised distributed image acquisition system over a large geographic area; a real world application for this functionality is the creation of a platform to facilitate wirelessly-distributed 3D stereoscopic vision.

A ‘best-practice’ design methodology is adopted within the project to ensure the final system operates according to its requirements. Initially, requirements are generated from which a high-level architecture is distilled. This architecture is then converted into a hardware specification and low-level design, which is then manufactured. The manufactured hardware is then verified to ensure it operates as designed and firmware and Linux Operating System (OS) drivers are written to provide the features and connectivity required of the system. Finally, integration testing is performed to ensure the unit functions as per its requirements.

The BabelFuse System comprises of a single Grand Master unit which is responsible for maintaining the absolute value of the "global" clock. Slave nodes then determine their local clock o.set from that of the Grand Master via synchronisation events which occur multiple times per-second. The mechanism used for synchronising the clocks between the boards wirelessly makes use of specific hardware and a firmware protocol based on elements of the IEEE-1588 Precision Time Protocol (PTP). With the key requirement of the system being submillisecond-accurate clock synchronisation (as a basis for timestamping and camera triggering), automated testing is carried out to monitor the o.sets between each Slave and the Grand Master over time. A common strobe pulse is also sent to each unit for timestamping; the correlation between the timestamps of the di.erent units is used to validate the clock o.set results.

Analysis of the automated test results show that the BabelFuse units are almost threemagnitudes more accurate than their requirement; clocks of the Slave and Grand Master units do not by more than three microseconds over a running time of six hours and the mean clock o.set of Slaves to the Grand Master is less-than one microsecond.

The common strobe pulse used to verify the clock o.set data yields a positive result with a maximum variation between units of less-than two microseconds and a mean value of less-than one microsecond.

The camera triggering functionality is verified by connecting the trigger pulse output of each board to a four-channel digital oscilloscope and setting each unit to output a 100Hz periodic pulse with a common start time. The resulting waveform shows a maximum variation between the rising-edges of the pulses of approximately 39¥ìs, well below its target of 1ms.

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ID Code: 55225
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Upcroft, Ben & Corke, Peter
Keywords: clock synchronisation, precision time protocol, IEEE-1588, IEEE-802.15.4, wirelesscommunication, wireless clock synchronisation, precision timestamping, data fusion, Gumstix, hardware timestamping, embedded system, microcontroller, LPC1768,AT86RF212, serial console, clock drift, clock offset, distributed clock, globalclock, camera trigger, distributed trigger, wireless synchronised trigger, wirelesstrigger, kernel driver, cortex M3, USB driver, impedance controlled routing
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 30 Nov 2012 01:15
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 11:00

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