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How land surveyors grapple with rapid evolution

Photo: Gavin Schrock

Photo: Gavin Schrock

Gavin Schrock, PLS, shared his thoughts on how the evolution of GNSS has affected surveying. Schrock is a practicing land surveyor, the operator of a cooperative real-time GNSS network in Washington state, and a technology writer.

Gavin Schrock has been using satellite navigation since the early days of GPS and the Doppler-based Transit system before that. “I am a bit of a dinosaur,” he said. “What I find interesting about the evolution of GPS, especially when it went to multi-constellation, is that it instills more confidence in what somebody is doing, in several ways.”

For commercial use of GPS, the first units were static and required post-processing. “If you were out in the wide open sky and could get your minimum of four to five satellites and observe enough data, you could process that and get outstanding precision — less than 3 cm in 3D in a reasonable amount of time with 95% confidence,” Schrock said. “Now, with more satellites, you can get it a lot faster and in more places.” Using certain procedures, early GPS adopters could get down to millimeters. “You can get that precision now, but you get there a heck of a lot faster.”

An obstructed view of the sky, tree canopy, multipath and other factors limit where surveyors can use GNSS. One of the ways the new constellations and signals help, Schrock explained, is through the evolution of processing. “I like to call it the fourth wave of GNSS field equipment for high precision — for surveying, machine control and construction. In just the past few years, many of the manufacturers have had to put huge processors in their high-end rovers to process many more satellites and signals, as well as new RTK [real-time kinematic] engines with improved onboard multipath mitigation.”

While some rovers built a decade ago could track and use many of these signals, this new wave of gear, with more powerful processing, takes much greater advantage of the multi-constellation. The updated interface control document (ICD) for BeiDou-3 was released just over two years ago; it may still take a lot of development work to enable older receivers to take advantage of it, if it is even possible, he said. By contrast, “Many newer units hit the ground running with full constellation capabilities.”

“Much of the new wave can do amazing things in the way they can mix and match signals, though there are different approaches to this,” Schrock said. “They can do such things as processing many satellites and multiple signals from each, under one filter for a more robust solution. You might have L1, L2, L5, B3, E1, E5a, and E5b in the mix, to name a few. Then you have the alternative BOC modulation (AltBOC), where it is kind of processed together to give a wide lane solution. That can really bring in your high precision a lot faster and, in many cases, improve on the high precision that you used to get with your old rovers.”

Mount Rainier (above) serves as the backdrop for a field project by Schrock (right). (Photo: Gavin Schrock)

Mount Rainier (above) serves as the backdrop for a field project by Schrock (right). (Photo: Gavin Schrock)

How GLONASS Brought Change

Surveyors using equipment more than four years old, which Schrock calls “legacy gear,” often cannot take full advantage of the availability of multiple constellations. “Years ago, there was a mini-boost when manufacturers began to include GLONASS; you suddenly had more satellites. Early GLONASS was a mess, but it got better. It remains a little noisy, but you have extra satellites. When you are trying to get a minimum of five satellites to do your RTK or your network RTK, we really struggled when it was GPS only. GLONASS changed that. You could work in many more places, without worrying about the time of day and looking up what the satellite’s availability was going to be and have to plan ahead.”

The latest boost, thanks to the two new GNSS constellations, is “much more impactful” than the addition of GLONASS was, Schrock said. Galileo now has five or more usable signals, depending on how each manufacturer chooses to use them. In addition to the extra satellites, “you also have more modernized signals. They are not as noisy as the old GLONASS ones. GPS signals are still very clean, and about half of the GPS satellites now broadcast the L5 signal, which you can throw into the mix.”

RTK units now can mix and match satellites from different constellations in outstanding ways, Schrock said. “The advantages are great when you are struggling in canopy. You still must be cautious, but you can check repeatability much more quickly.”

In the old days, Schrock recalled, when surveyors used GPS only, carried giant receivers and huge antennas, and did long static sessions, they had to return to sites for repeat observations on different days and at different times.“The method was based on the premise that if you can repeat a solution with a different geometry, that gives you more confidence. Now you may have up to 40 satellites in view. In Asia, 50 in view is not uncommon, because they have India’s NavIC constellation and Japan’s QZSS in view as well. The rover will pick and choose the best ones to use for that solution. So now, instead of having to go back 40 minutes later or the next day to get a different geometry, in several of the manufacturers’ field software, you have a way to just ask it to pick different geometries.” Comparing these geometries to the results from repeated occupations on multiple days, Schrock saw no difference.

Some users of the network he operates are “over the moon,” he said. One construction company told him multi-constellation fundamentally changed the way it approaches parts of their construction projects and cited the confidence factor. Adding GLONASS and Galileo to their mix, users told him “I’ve been missing out all these years. I should have gotten into this earlier!” Schrock has not received as much positive feedback from end users as within the past few years. “[Multi-constellation] has made a lot of difference, including in the way I approach my own field projects.”

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DENSO and Brandmotion join on V2X integration

Photo: jonathange/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Photo: jonathange/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Brandmotion LLC is collaborating with DENSO Products and Services Americas to offer a one-stop service to cities seeking to equip vehicles with advanced vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology.

DENSO is a global mobility supplier and Brandmotion develops vehicle integration for V2X deployments. By combining forces, the two companies are offering cities and agencies an easier path to vehicle integration for V2X deployment testing.

V2X technology has been proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation as the best way to address the chronic death toll on America’s roadways, with nearly 37,000 lives lost and a record 6,721 pedestrians killed at intersections in 2020. Many city managers and state transportation agencies are looking to deploy V2X technology regionally to reduce vehicle crashes and fatalities and improve pedestrian safety.

The DENSO-Brandmotion partnership simplifies the process of equipping vehicles for long-term testing. Many cities have had to assemble the elements of a large vehicle V2X deployment manually, developing specifications and coordinating multiple vendors.

Brandmotion has served the Tampa Connected Vehicle Pilot for five years and provided responsive professional-grade automotive integration and service capability. DENSO is the on-board unit (OBU) supplier to OEMs for phase 4 of Tampa’s pilot project, bringing true Tier 1 development capabilities to the project.

The partnership will provide transportation agencies with the following vehicle-related deployment services:

  • the DENSO On Board Unit (OBU) platform (Hercules), which has the ability to run and process applications that support both cellular V2X (C-V2X) communications and dedicated short range communications (DSRC) in an automotive environment (while DSRC is still permitted by the U.S. Federal Communication Commission)
  • a standard set of applications, including blindspot/lane-change warning, electronic emergency brake light, forward crash warning, intersection movement assist, red light violation warning, and traffic signal priority
  • custom application development for specific agency application goals
  • thorough vehicle-specific installation planning, vehicle system design and validation
  •  small to large-scale installation and tech support.
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Cohda Wireless adapts V2X solution for Mongolian mine

Cohda Wireless logoIntelligent transport company Cohda Wireless is applying its vehicle positioning solution to the Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia to drive safety and productivity.

In its first use for mining, Cohda’s V2X-Locate technology is being deployed at the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine, managed by Rio Tinto, to provide vehicle and personnel location accuracy.

V2X-Locate was initially developed to solve vehicle positioning accuracy challenges inherent in the urban canyons of cities where large buildings, underground parking lots and tunnels interfere with GNSS signals. Using dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) signals, Cohda’s signal processing and positioning algorithms provide highly accurate vehicle position irrespective of GNSS availability or quality.

Cohda Wireless is headquartered in Australia and has offices in Europe, the United States and China. Its V2X (Vehicle-To-Everything) technology connects vehicles with each other and with roadside infrastructure to create a cooperative and intelligent transport environment.

The system can integrate and manage location data from multiple sensor types with sub-meter accuracy throughout the mine site, said Paul Gray, Cohda Wireless CEO. He called it a significant improvement on using a combination of disparate collision avoidance systems across the mining environment, as is usually the case.

“When you have hundreds of vehicles and personnel operating in close proximity underground, a meter matters. And whilst the prevention of injury and death is always the top priority, we also know that the ability to visualize, optimize and monitor vehicles brings significant operational benefits and efficiencies,” Gray said.

More than 200 mining vehicles of all types are being fitted with Cohda’s XBU-V specially adapted on-board units that connect vehicles to each other and to XBU-I roadside units installed in mine tunnels. Mining vehicles are fitted with a human-machine interface that will notify operators to warn them of potential collisions. More than 2,000 personnel will use V2X-Locate-compatible cap lamps, enabling time-of-flight analysis of wireless signals to resolve spatial locations.

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Septentrio partners with ArduSimple for emerging GPS/GNSS applications

The mosaic-X5 and mosaic-H modules are being integrated into ArduSimple’s new evaluation kits, making resilient cm-level positioning easily accessible for testing and prototyping

Photo: Septentrio

Photo: Septentrio

Septentrio’s compact GNSS module mosaic-X5 and heading module mosaic-H are being integrated into evaluation kits developed by ArduSimple.

With these new kits, ArduSimple brings to market triple-band real-time kinematic (RTK) GPS/GNSS as a plug-and-play solution for the most popular development platforms such as Arduino, STM Nucleo, Raspberry Pi, Ardupilot and Nvidia Jetson.

ArduSimple enables developers of robotics, UAVs and autonomous systems to easily try out mosaic, a unique module offering the latest high-performance GNSS positioning technology.

“The mosaic module complements the ArduSimple RTK product portfolio with a higher-end solution for the most demanding applications,” said Marc Castillo, senior consultant at ArduSimple. “Triple-band GNSS brings extra reliability to the RTK solution and removes the headache of transitioning from L2 to L5 band. This, combined with its feature-rich software, will allow our customers to accelerate even more their time-to-market.”

In addition to triple-band GNSS, mosaic module offers unmatched resilience to radio interference. This is especially important in robotic devices where electronic components, such as cameras and servos, are located close to the GPS/GNSS receiver, often interfering with GPS signals, which are weak, and causing positioning degradation. High-accuracy positioning is delivered at a uniquely high update-rate by mosaic-X5 in single antenna mode. Meanwhile, the board which mounts mosaic-H offers all-in functionality with dual-antenna mode for accurate GNSS heading.

“By partnering with ArduSimple we are bringing mosaic to emerging markets where its outstanding performance makes a difference. Mosaic makes accurate positioning so much easier to integrate and use, while giving a competitive edge to new products,” said Gustavo Lopez, market access manager at Septentrio. “ArduSimple is a great partner because they are known in the industry for offering user-friendly and affordable evaluation kits for RTK positioning, complemented by software tools, making integration and rapid prototyping easy.”

The SimpleRTK3B board, which allows evaluation of the mosaic GNSS module, is now available for purchase via the ArduSimple web shop. For more information about mosaic or other Septentrio products visit or contact Septentrio.

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DHS offers 3 resources to protect critical infrastructure from GPS vulnerabilities

DHS logoThe U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has published a GPS Receiver Whitelist Development Guide and a new release of the Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Integrity Library to protect against GPS spoofing.

The free resources are intended to advance the design of PNT systems and increase resilience of critical infrastructure to PNT disruptions.

The GPS Whitelist Development Guide presents a software assurance approach to addressing potential vulnerabilities and increasing reliability of GPS receivers. The guide addresses data-related requirements in the Resilient PNT Conformance Framework, which provides guidance for defining expected behaviors in resilient PNT equipment.

“We hope this guide and related resources will help industry advance towards a cybersecurity-based approach to PNT resilience,” said S&T Technical Manager Ernest Wong.

Originally released in March 2021 as open source on GitHub, the PNT Integrity Library provides users with a method to verify the integrity of the received GPS data. The update includes:

  • A compliance check on Interface Control Document (ICD) IS-GPS-200, which is a formal means of establishing, defining and controlling communication between the GPS space and other user systems; and
  • A Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Toolkit, which describes how a perspective end-user of the PNT Integrity Library can assemble a demonstrational toolkit with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware.

“Since GPS signals can be jammed or spoofed, critical infrastructure systems should not be designed with the assumption that GPS data will always be available or will always be accurate,” said S&T Project Manager Brannan Villee. “Application of these tools will provide increased security against GPS disruptions. However, DHS also recommends a holistic defense strategy that considers the integrity of the PNT data from its reception through its use in the supported system.”

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ViaLite supports Raytheon with mission critical, extended length GPS over fiber

ViaLite GPS Link: Blue OEM module and rack chassis card hardware formats shown. (Photos: ViaLite)

ViaLite GPS Link: Blue OEM module and rack chassis card hardware formats shown. (Photos: ViaLite)

ViaLite is supplying Raytheon Technologies with its GPS over Fiber Extension Kit for Microsemi GPS servers. The kit provides mission-critical GPS timing and synchronization for systems requiring extremely accurate clock signals.

Standard transmission distances for the extension kit can be up to 10 km, while solutions are available for distances as long as 50 km.

“The ViaLite kit was chosen for its unique performance with Microsemi’s S650 timing server, along with our best-in-class quality, reliability and support,” said Craig Somach, ViaLite director of Sales North America.

The ViaLite GPS link is designed to provide a remote GPS/GNSS signal or derived timing reference to equipment located where no signal is available, such as inside buildings or tunnels. By using optical fiber instead of traditional coaxial cable, extreme distances are possible with no radio frequency loss and zero introduction of noise.

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Maxar 3D data integrated into Swedish fighter jet for GPS-denied navigation

Saab, the Swedish defense and security company, and Maxar recently demonstrated a solution to GNSS-denied navigation by integrating Maxar’s 3D Data and Precision 3D Registration (P3DR) technology into the fighter jet software for the Swedish Gripen E fighter jet.

Saab develops and manufactures the fighter jet for Sweden and other countries.

A camera on the jet captures a livestream of its flight path. Maxar’s P3DR compares that incoming livestream to the Maxar 3D Surface Model of the area stored on the jet. By matching scenes in the livestream to the 3D data in real time, P3DR can determine the jet’s precise location, enabling the pilot to navigate and carry out the mission without GPS.

Maxar 3D Surface Model, immersive 3D data with superior accuracy and global coverage, offers a highly accurate representation of Earth. The data is produced with unique automated technology, delivered rapidly and with high precision. It is based on Maxar’s high-resolution, unclassified commercial satellite imagery, without the need for ground control points. Maxar’s 3D Surface Model product is a key input to the company’s Globe in 3D, a worldwide foundation of 3D data with resolution of 50 cm or better and 3 m accuracy in all dimensions.

The chart across the top of the video indicates the accuracy of the P3DR matching of the livestream video to the Maxar 3D Surface Model. When the camera encounters clouds, it lowers the accuracy of P3DR’s match; however, as long as there is some view of the ground, the accuracy is relatively high.

Maxar’s P3DR is a standalone software solution that automatically geo-registers imagery from any source to Maxar 3D reference data. This real-time capability enables navigation in a GPS-denied environment, safeguarding against signal jammers in an anti-access area denial (A2AD) environment.

Saab put the GPS-denied navigation technique to the test with a Gripen flight demonstration over Sweden. The GIF below demonstrates how P3DR closely overlays the livestream image on the Maxar 3D Surface Model, allowing the pilot to understand where they are on the map.

During the flight demonstration, the Gripen’s GPS receiver was on to monitor the accuracy of the results. The GPS receiver verified that the demonstration’s results were accurate.

The Gripen E jet fighter built by Saab. (Photo: Saab)

The Gripen E jet fighter built by Saab. (Photo: Saab)

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RNT Foundation proposes attributes for resilient timing RFP

Image: RNT Foundation

A National Resilient Timing Architecture should include delivery by fiber and RF along with space-based, according to the RNT Foundation. (Image: RNT Foundation)

The Resilient Navigation and Timing (RNT) Foundation has published a white paper proposing attributes for a government Request for Proposal (RFP) to acquire timing services.

A National Resilient Timing Architecture – Now for an RFP!” builds upon the foundation’s October 2020 white paper “A Resilient National Timing Architecture.”

Timing services, most of which are now sourced directly or indirectly from GPS, are essential for myriads of network, transportation, financial, industrial, and other applications. The National Timing Resilience and Security Act of 2018 (NTRSA) requires establishment of one or more systems to serve as alternatives and back up GPS timing.

The RNT Foundation’s October 2020 white paper discusses how a national timing architecture fulfilling the requirements of NTRSA could be established relatively easily and inexpensively. It proposes that, rather than building its own system, the government contract for services with commercial providers.

The new white paper outlines some of the requirements and evaluation criteria the government might use when acquiring timing services.


The paper postulates that the goal of such a procurement should be to establish a federal timing “backbone.” This would fulfill the requirements of NTRSA, which recognizes that timing is critical for many applications and is also the basis for most electronic positioning and navigation systems.

Establishing this backbone will provide users with an alternative and a safety net for GPS disruptions, and at other times enable more resilient and reliable services. As a backbone, it would provide basic, foundational services upon which others would be able to build. The new services would be expected to:

  • support a wide variety of public and private applications across the nation
  • be entirely independent from and have minimal or no common failure modes with GPS and other GNSS
  • provide multiple and diverse methods of timing delivery
  • serve both fixed and mobile users.

Regarding this last point, the paper notes that mobile devices must know their location before they can make use of timing signals. Thus, the selected system or combination of systems also will have to provide GPS-independent location information at a basic level to mobile users.


Successful proposals, the paper envisions, will need to meet a number of requirements including

  • serving the entire U.S. land area, airspace, and coastal waters to about 200 miles offshore
  • enabling all fixed and mobile users to access at least one non-space-based source (to ensure no common failure modes with GPS/ GNSS)
  • timing accuracy in all locations to within 500 nanoseconds of universal coordinated time (UTC); this accuracy should be within 100 nanoseconds of UTC for the 50 largest metropolitan areas
  • one or more integrity measures to provide users confidence in system(s) accuracy
  • a very high rate of continuity and availability, similar to that of navigation beacons for aircraft
  • a performance monitoring and control system.

Evaluation Criteria

Fortunately for the government, numerous systems and companies are already able to provide the needed services. Deciding which to select will likely be a significant effort. Some of the evaluation criteria suggested by the RNT Foundation white paper are:

Annual Cost – While cost will not be the only consideration in this acquisition, the government always has a responsibility to taxpayers to weigh it as an important factor.

Infrastructure Required Per Unit of Coverage Area – This has been cited by the Department of Transportation as a very important consideration. Not only does the amount of infrastructure affect cost, but it also has implications for environmental and community impacts.

Spectrum – Signal disruption by in-band and out-of-band transmissions has been a significant issue for GPS. New PNT wireless and radio-frequency services should pose as few spectrum concerns as possible. Spectrum band reservations, licenses, pre-allocated bands, other bands and adjacent band uses will all be given consideration.

Penetration – While the government may not list this as a requirement, the ability of a service to reach underwater, underground and indoor locations will likely be desirable and part of proposal evaluation.

Resilience – The vulnerability of GPS signals to disruption will undoubtedly make the resilience of potential backup and complementary systems a major issue. The RNT Foundation paper discusses two kinds of resilience – operational and recovery.

Operational resilience is defined as “the ability of a system, combination of systems, or service to resist disruption (e.g.: jamming, spoofing, physical damage negatively impacting service).” One measure of resilience might be the energy needed to disrupt signals.

Recovery resilience is described as “The speed and ease with which a service can return to normal operation” after a disruption.

Cybersecurity – Similarly, cybersecurity is seen as having two components. The first is network security, defined as the degree to which systems are isolated from or connected to networks. Second is signal security, and is how well signals can be protected from infiltration and imitation.

Endorsements for GPS Alternative Timing

Since the “National Resilient Timing Architecture” white paper was issued in 2020, calls for GPS alternatives have intensified, and the white paper itself has received an important endorsement.

On May 7, the telecommunications industry standards group Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) vigorously supported federal funding for GPS alternatives. In letters to leaders in both houses of Congress, ATIS cited “the urgent need for funding the deployment and adoption of Alternative Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Systems in U.S. critical infrastructure, including the U.S. telecom industry.”

The need for federal support for timing and positioning backups for GPS was also supported by a two-year old study released by RAND Corporation in May. While the paper went to great lengths to argue against a duplicate GPS-like capability (something no one has supported to the best of our knowledge), it quietly suggested federal support for both a national timing system and location services to serve E-911 systems.

Numerous recent media releases from U.S. Space Force have revealed serious military threats to GPS and other space-based systems. A variety of killer-satellites, lasers and other weapons have turned space from a sanctuary into a potential battle ground. While not specifically calling for alternatives to GPS, the Space Force announcements have made it clear the nation needs to “get the bullseye off GPS.” Establishing at least one terrestrial alternative system similar to those operated by our adversaries will make U.S. satellites and signals much less attractive targets, according to Greg Winfree, former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Federal Funding Needed

Federal funding for improving national timing was specifically supported by a group of CEOs and senior executives from major telecom companies. Acting as the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC), the group’s May report to President Biden discussed GPS vulnerabilities and threats, and urged establishment of a capability

“…similar to that reflected in the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation’s paper entitled A Resilient National Timing Architecture. Further, to enhance the ability of commercial entities to afford leveraging this architecture, the Administration should appropriate sufficient funds to lay the foundation for creating this timing architecture, with the Federal Government being the first customer for what will ultimately become a resilient, interconnected network for PNT delivery.”

Federal funding support is necessary, according to NSTAC, because free GPS services greatly suppress market demand for alternatives.

Dana Goward is president of the Resilient Navigation and Timing (RNT) Foundation.

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Europe awards seven contracts for alternative PNT demos

A notice of award was posted Oct. 11 by the European Union for seven contracts to six different companies for demonstration of non-GNSS positioning, navigation, or timing solutions.

The awardees are OPNT BV from the Netherlands; Seven Solutions SL from Spain; SPCTime of France; GMV Aerospace of Spain; Satelles Inc. of the United states; and Locata Corporation of Australia.

Locata received two separate contract awards: one to demonstrate delivery of time, and the other for positioning.

According to the EU project officer, Ignacio Alcantrailla-Medina, some of the awardees will demonstrate delivery of time, some positioning, and some both. Locata received separate awards because the company provided separate responses for timing and positioning.

Eleven different companies responded to the tender, according to the announcement. No information was provided on the unsuccessful bidders.

The EU tender for this project was announced in October 2020. The stated goal of the project is to better understand available non-GNSS PNT technologies. The intent is to identify potential backups for GNSS during an outage. All offered technologies were required to be able to operate independently from and have “no common points of failure with” GNSS.

Alcantrailla-Medina says the demonstration project is expected to last seven and a half months. As part of this, a public event will be held at the EU’s Joint Research Center in Ispra, Italy, in March or April, 2022. This will be followed by a consolidated report on the project in May or June.

This consolidated report will be used in the next edition of the European Radionavigation Plan due out next fall, according to Alcantrailla-Medina.

Companies that did not respond to the EU’s tender or were not selected for a contract can still have information about their products and services included in the consolidated report, says Alcantrailla-Medina. Now that all contracts for the demonstrations have been awarded, he is open to receiving the information and can be contacted at:

European Commission
DG Defence Industry and Space
Unit C2 – Satellite Navigation
Avenue d’Auderghem 45, (BREY 7/297)
B-1049 Brussels/Belgium


Dana A. Goward is President of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation

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Microdrones updates mdCockpit app for safer drone surveying

Screenshot: Microdrones

Screenshot: Microdrones

The mdCockpit app from Microdrones was designed for professional drone users to make it easy to plan, monitor, change and control flights from an Android tablet.

The latest updates — in mdCockpit 2021.3 — include new features that improve flight safety and give more options for surveying in an aim to deliver a premier solution for planning, monitoring, adjusting, analyzing and controlling professional drone flight missions right from a tablet. Robert Chrismon, the marketing manager, and Maude Morin, Software Product Owner discuss the updates  in the video below.

Key updates for mdCockpit version 2021.3 are in the Flight Editor, Flight Data and Drone Configuration components of the app.


  • New layers section in Mission Dashboard
  • KML as a background layer
  • Optimized entry point on corridors


  • Displays last position of the drone
  • Drop renamed to Descent in Quick Height Change dialog
  • Telemetry alerts


  • New maintenance program fields in drone config
  • Reminder of the next inspection or service
  • Read only homing height

Drone pilots can download mdCockpit onto their Android table through the Google Play store.