Smart Power Module for Distributed Sensor Power Network of an Unmanned Ground Vehicle

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Virginia Tech


Energy efficiency is a driving factor in modern electronic design particularly in power conversion where conversion losses directly set the upper limit of system efficiency. A wide variety of commercially available DC-DC conversion elements have inefficiencies in the 90-97% range. The efficiency range of most common commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) power supplies is 75-85%, highlighting the fact that COTS power supplies have not kept pace with efficiency improvements of modern conversion elements.

Unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) is an application where efficiency can be crucial in extending tight power budgets. In autonomous ground vehicles, geographic diversity with regard to sensor location is inherent because sensor orientation and placement are crucial to performance. Sensor power, therefore, is also distributed by nature of the devices being supplied.

This thesis presents the design and evaluation of a smart power module used to implement a distributed power network in an autonomous ground vehicle. The module conversion element demonstrated an average efficiency of 96.7% for loads from 1-4A. Current monitoring and an adjustable output current limit were provided through a second circuit board within the same module enclosure. The module processing element sends periodic updates and receives commands over a CAN bus. The smart power modules successfully supply critical sensing and communication components in an operational autonomous ground vehicle.



unmanned ground vehicle, sensor power, high efficiency, current limiting, current sensing, internal compensation