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Explaining how Crystal Group is best-suited to redefine autonomous vehicles, Kongable points to the most critical element of an intricate driverless automotive ecosystem: the embedded computer. Tasked with sensor fusion, machine learning, data collection, and data processing, the embedded computing system of an autonomous vehicle scribes a virtual picture of its operational environment through which it then navigates efficiently to avoid collisions on the road. “When a child runs into the street, for example, the computer must respond within a fraction of a second to avoid a disaster,” says Kongable. It is, therefore, necessary that the embedded systems are reliable, available, and capable of processing and executing complicated commands instantaneously, “just like the C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) systems used for the military’s tactical and real-time intelligence,” adds Kongable, highlighting their value proposition. “We aim to apply such military concepts as building blocks in the civilian world.” Utilizing Crystal Group’s remarkable proficiency and track record in the rugged devices market—successfully deployed on more than 500 military and homeland security programs and platforms—Crystal Group provides sophisticated, rugged computing systems for driverless automotives.
Enunciating the growth journey of the company, Kongable says that Crystal Group was not always a niche player in the military segment. In its early days, the company—which was then known as Emerald Engineering—was a computer consulting firm that designed industrial computers for the telecommunications industry.
From the very beginning, the aim of the company was to oust heavy, antiquated computing systems with small, compact, hard-wearing, reliable devices
A Compact, Reliable, Rugged Computing System
Crystal Group’s uniqueness lies in taking commercial off-the-shelf electronics and ruggedizing them to make them more durable. This electronics ruggedization approach covers categories like mechanical competence, temperature resilience, and electromagnetic interference. The techniques to improve mechanical strength and temperature resilience include stabilizing components that are susceptible to damage from shock and vibration, increasing airflow to hot components, and upgrading the conductive and convective heat transfer mechanisms to extend the thermal limits of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) electronics. Combining these techniques with a durable structural chassis design enables superior environmental performance and longevity. At the same time, the company’s ruggedization approach also ensures that the electronics do not succumb to drastic temperature variations. All the systems are designed with enhanced cooling capability, and some feature liquid cooling systems for superior thermal management. Crystal Group’s computing systems can even survive lightning strikes. To top it off, the company also ensures that none of their rugged systems emit any kind of radiation that might interfere with other radio or network equipment.
"Crystal Group’s uniqueness lies in taking commercial off-the-shelf electronics and ruggedizing them to make them more durable"
“Utilizing this approach, we have tailored high-performance, fail-safe rugged hardware for hundreds of defense missions in the last 20 years,” says Kongable. Today, Crystal Group employs that expertise to create their product— RACE (Rugged Autonomous Computer Equipment) that accelerates the time to market of an automated driving system or unmanned vehicle project. “RACE solutions leverage decades of experience in engineering rugged, reliable compute solutions for the U.S. and international military programs as well as some of the world’s largest car manufacturers,” emphasizes Kongable. The solution packs impressive compute power, data-handling capabilities, and storage capacity in a clever, space-saving design.
With high-performance computing devices come the need for high-capacity data storage solutions that can operate in adverse conditions. Keeping these requisites in mind, Crystal Group has developed rugged data servers that meet or exceed MIL-STD-167-1, MIL-STD-461E/F, MIL-STD-810F, and MIL-S-901-D as well as IEEE and IEC industrial standards. “While the largest customer base of Crystal Group’s highly customizable robust servers comprises the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy, these servers are increasingly being used in autonomous vehicles, power generation and distribution, and oil and gas exploration and extraction,” says Kongable.
Tapping the Lucrative Autonomous Vehicle Market
Recent market studies suggest that the self-driving technology is rapidly pacing forward and is predicted to achieve unprecedented growth, reaching $7 trillion by 2050. To leverage this booming market, Kongable has formed a strong alliance with Intel. “We had already done a number of projects with Intel on the defense front and wanted to venture together on the commercial side as well,” informs Kongable. Prior to this collaboration, Intel was facing several challenges in building the right rugged equipment that would enhance the efficiency of Intel’s technology developed for self-driving cars. With the help of Crystal Group’s customized rugged computing solutions, Intel significantly accelerated the time taken for developing such vehicles. In fact, Kongable notes that it was this collaboration with Intel that fuelled Crystal Group to enter the autonomous vehicle market. “Now, with the help of our association with Intel, we are developing rugged computing solutions for leading U.S. and European OEMs,” adds Kongable.
Customers above All: A Culture That Breeds Success
Crystal Group tries to stay ahead of both client needs as well as leading-edge technology. “One of the aspects that truly distinguishes us from other embedded system solution providers is our commitment toward fulfilling end-user expectations. Once we make a promise, no amount of time, energy, or money is too much to spend to keep that commitment,” says Kongable. He strongly believes this customer-driven approach is one of the key reasons Crystal Group has been able to establish and maintain a long-running relationship with numerous reputed companies and governmental organizations worldwide. Advancing into the future, Crystal Group’s focus on creating a positive consumer experience coupled with its second-to-none rugged computing technology solutions is poised to spearhead a momentous transformation in the autonomous vehicles realm.