Mobile mapping using an OxTS xNAV650 INS and lidar sensor. Photo: OxTS
We discussed mobile mapping with Jacob Amacker, application engineer, OxTS.
How do you define “mobile mapping” as opposed to “surveying”?
We use the two terms interchangeably. Each one has a different connotation depending on where you are in the world and both can be useful. We use them to cover a broad range of use cases, but “mobile mapping” is used more specifically for land-based mapping of the environment. A typical application might be a van equipped with an INS [inertial navigation system] and lidar sensors.
“Surveying” can be used a bit more generally, applying to aerial or pedestrian-based mapping, but it does have the connotation of static mapping, which we do not typically handle.
What are your main markets for mobile mapping?
It is very hard to say. The world of mobile mapping is so diverse. However, lidar mapping could be seen as both the largest and the fastest-growing market in the surveying world as lidar has become widely affordable. Although our technology can be used with any surveying devices, at OxTS we particularly like to use lidar and are focusing on getting the best results from lidar data. This has included making our own point-cloud georeferencing software to maximize the potential of our navigation data in making point clouds.
What are the main differences between your devices for aerial mapping and for ground-based mapping?
We use the same INS device for both ground and aerial mapping. For use on manned aircraft, we would always recommend our highest accuracy system with the best IMU, the Survey+. The main source of inaccuracy in survey data will come from the IMU error over the range to the objects. Because most of this range is the aircraft’s altitude, this error is quite significant. For land-based mapping work, the measurements provided by the lighter and smaller xNAV650 are still suitable for many high-precision applications.
GNSS-INS integration has been done for decades. What is new and what are the remaining challenges?
It is now much more affordable to have very high-grade IMUs and GNSS receivers. Nevertheless, there will always be further improvements to be made to how the data streams are combined. On a similar note, other navigation aiding sources are increasingly being considered to supplement the IMU and the GNSS receiver — such as wheel speed sensors, lidar, camera odometry and others that can also be integrated to stabilize and improve the navigation data. Overall, it is very exciting what is yet to come out of INS technology. In recent years, it has become so good that people expect more and more from it, and this demand must be met. What happens when GNSS drops out? We are seeing increasing development to make the navigation data robust against challenges of any environment.
Given the IMU’s drift, for how long can your system function at an acceptable level in case of a GNSS outage?
It is difficult to put a number on what kind of drift is acceptable, as it depends on the application and the end-user requirements. Typically, half a meter of drift in one minute of GNSS-outage might be the goal for some of the higher-grade surveyors. Still others might only be satisfied with negligible drift.
What keeps the INS and the lidar unit synchronized during a GNSS outage?
The INS has an internal clock to keep the timing during a GNSS outage. Of course, this will not be as accurate as the atomic clocks on the satellites, but it is quite adequate to maintain survey-grade accuracy during GNSS outages. GNSS is still necessary to get the timing information in the first place, and this is a reliance that INS devices will want to remove in the future.