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YellowScan introduces Voyager long-range lidar scanner

Photo: YellowScan

Photo: YellowScan

YellowScan has released a new long-range lidar scanner. Voyager is a powerful solution for both manned and unmanned aircraft.

With Voyager’s wide field of view, all of the points collected are oriented toward the ground, meaning there is no loss of points. This also means 1.5 million points per second will be usable, which would not be the case with a 360° scanner.

Voyager combines a Riegl VUX-120 laser scanner with a Trimble Applanix AP+ 50 AIR or Applanix AP+ 30 AIR GNSS-inertial board, providing precision of 0.5 cm and accuracy of 1 cm.

Voyager’s detection and processing of up to 15 target echoes per laser pulse allows for excellent  vegetation penetration. Its has an extremely fast data-acquisition rate of up to 1800 kHz, suitable for projects requiring the highest point density.

The laser scanner’s specifications can be customized to fit the needs of various projects and platforms, and can be combined with YellowScan’s full suite of software solutions to easily extract, process, merge and colorize point-cloud data.

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Leadership Talks: Interview with Gareth Gibson, Trimble

Precision at Any Level

Business Model Enables Mass Adoption of Product with Service

In September 2021, Trimble released its DA2 GNSS receiver with Trimble Catalyst service. I asked Gareth Gibson, the company’s marketing director, Mapping & GIS Solutions, about the product and recent developments in GNSS-enabled mapping.


When I started in this business, more than 20 years ago, we used to divide GNSS receivers into three categories, broadly speaking: consumer grade, resource grade, and survey grade. Are those distinctions still useful?

The survey world and the mapping world have been coming together over the last 20 years or so. Probably Jack Dangermond was one of the first people to publicly acknowledge that. Surveying is an ancient profession whereas mapping and GIS, as an industry, has evolved much more recently. The techniques and the expectations of precision and the complexity of the workflow coming from the survey side has always been somewhat at odds with what the mapping world has been trying to achieve, so the products and the tools of these industries were quite different.

The Trimble DA2 receiver boosts the performance of the Trimble Catalyst GNSS positioning service. (Photo: Trimble)

The Trimble DA2 receiver boosts the performance of the Trimble Catalyst GNSS positioning service. (Photo: Trimble)

However, there has been a blurring of the lines. Today, the capabilities of mapping-grade GNSS systems are no different from those that can be used in the survey industry as well. Catalyst is an example of that. However, the focus is much more on ensuring that the technology gets out of the way. Let the technology vendor take care of the hard parts, to make it work in the environments where it needs to work, and to make sure it operates with the software that allows the mapping user to focus on the job, with less complexity. We’ve reached that point where it’s difficult to distinguish the capabilities of a survey-grade receiver from those of a mapping-grade receiver. Technically, there’s very little difference.

You can think of Catalyst as renting the performance of the receiver to enable the work to get done. The convergence of technology is enabling the business model transformation, and the business model transformation is aiming to better address the needs of the user. The types of services that these tools enable, the methods with which these tools communicate with homebase and with the vendors—licensing systems, platforms and so forth—have reached a point of enabling delivery of products as a service. That is a good thing because customers are not interested in owning a product as much as they are in getting to the solution that they need.

So, the focus switches from “How do we deliver this product?” to “How do we best deliver this service and the solution?” Catalyst attempts to do that by delivering, in effect, positioning as a service. You are not buying a piece of hardware; you are purchasing the capability to generate and use high accuracy within your workflow to get your job done. That shifts the focus from upfront expense to delivering positioning as effectively as an operation.

What does the DA2 with Trimble Catalyst service enable that was not previously possible?

It enables the mass deployment of precise GNSS across organizations with tens or hundreds or even thousands of workers. They can now benefit from adding GNSS technology to their work where it was previously prohibitively expensive, too complicated, or simply incompatible with their workflows. Catalyst and the DA2 is enabling that through the business model, which we have employed for the technology, and through the technical capabilities of the platform, which has reached a point of being much easier to be mass adopted across organizations.

The significant change that we’ve made with the DA2 was the addition of support for Apple-based devices. The norm now is to use the phone or the tablet that you have in your pocket, as opposed to purchasing dedicated equipment, especially as it relates to the group of workers we would describe as the location-enabled workforce. These are people typically who are not trained surveyors or GIS professionals but are performing a function with an organization and location-enabled workflows. Software applications are just part of their toolkit for their day-to-day work. It does not make sense to equip these teams with very expensive and complicated equipment, but the functionality that the equipment can provide can unlock some areas of productivity that would have otherwise been inaccessible to them.

What are the remaining technical challenges to mapping for GIS and asset management applications?

The nut that we’ve cracked is enabling precision at almost any practical level, using GNSS, anywhere around the world. We continue to strive towards having access to that level of precision in any environment. There’s a limit to what can be achieved with GNSS alone. So, we start to see more and more the use of combined technologies, different data and sensor fusion. People are leveraging different parts of the technology jigsaw — what is available on their phones, what is available from external sensors, and what they can do with the raw data they are capturing, either directly within a piece of software on their mobile device or somewhere in the cloud, to make better use of the raw information that has been captured.

The second major area is the merging and connecting of workflows, not just the types of data that these organizations are capturing. Organizations are working with field teams, all that data coming together and being able to be used in a toolbox to enable different types of work to get done. In the past, things have been a lot more siloed. Now, technology is enabling us to work together in more clever ways. It is easier to share information.


“The nut we’ve cracked is enabling precision at almost any practical level, using GNSS, anywhere around the world.”


Is accuracy the only difference between surveying and mapping?

For surveyors, the primary deliverable is location. The historical basis of that industry is all about being able to capture and work with information in the most precise way possible. In the mapping world the focus is more on the information that’s being captured about that position, and its precision is just another attribute. That has helped to change our perspective on the relative importance of precision as part of the workflow and has driven us more towards trying to simplify the way that location is captured in a mapping workflow.

Our goal is to capture the most accurate position and to simplify the process for the user. We’ve tried to automate such things as the choice of correction service so that it’s a much more approachable technology and the user can focus on their area of expertise, which is the collection and designation of the mapping attributes.

What are the components of the Trimble Catalyst solution?

There are two elements to Catalyst. One is positioning as a service, enabled through a subscription. The other is the GNSS antenna. The latest generation of that is the DA2. We have made some changes to the DA2 to enable some better functionality and broader applicability. Without a high-quality antenna, there’s only so much that you can do with GNSS. Our focus with DA2 was to make the antenna component of the solution as small and lightweight as possible, but as high performance as possible. We’ve enabled that through a combination of very clever engineering.

The physical structure of the antenna is quite different from that of any other antenna that we build within Trimble. The idea to make it simpler, lighter and lower cost influenced almost every design decision that went into how that antenna is built — from how it fits and mounts with varying carrying solutions to how it is powered. In the first version of Catalyst, we had this notion of running the GNSS receiver as software inside using a computer that was freely accessible and available to every user without needing to burden the antenna itself and create a smart antenna. We said, “Well, if we can deliver GNSS by software, let’s leverage the computing power of the user’s phone or tablet.” So, we took the Catalyst GNSS receiver engine and ran it as an app on a phone.

The Trimble DA2 receiver boosts the performance of the Trimble Catalyst GNSS positioning service. (Photo: Trimble)

The Trimble DA2 receiver at work. (Photo: Trimble)

There were some limitations with that approach. We needed to have a fully cabled solution between the antenna and the phone to enable the required bandwidth from the antenna to the software itself, which required a USB connection and put a fairly heavy computational burden on the phone. However, that enabled us to strip out a lot of the excess weight and complexity from the antenna design, which lowered the cost of the antenna. It was a trade-off decision.

With the DA2 we’re acknowledging those changes, plus the limitations that are imposed by wanting to be compatible with the Apple environment of devices. We can still create a very low cost and lightweight computing package to run this same engine in software, but just move that computing resource back into the antenna again. So, it’s still a software defined receiver—effectively a completely different technology from what you would find on a typical hardware receiver.

We have added a wireless radio to allow GNSS positions to be communicated back to your phone or your tablet via Bluetooth. So, DA2 is a lot more versatile because it enables iOS device usage and wireless transfer information from the antenna to the phone or tablet.

Now, how do you make that work as a package to deliver high-precision results? You need access to correction services and a definition of how you want the receiver to behave based on a business model of what consumers are charged. That’s where the subscription component of the Catalyst service comes in. With Catalyst, we want to simplify the way that customers choose what they want and how they get it.

So, rather than purchasing a specific hardware configuration, figuring out what correction services to use, and how to configure them, you simply subscribe to whatever your required performance level is, and Trimble handles the rest. Each subscription is time-based, so it could be annual, monthly, or even hourly. It is a completely managed system that works everywhere in the world.

What are the options for receiving the corrections?

The DA2 supports delivery of corrections over the internet or through the antenna itself — so, in an offline or an online environment. Catalyst uses Trimble’s dedicated correction services, so Trimble VRS Now, which is available in parts of North America and most of Western Europe, as well as Trimble RTX, which is available everywhere in the world and is also delivered by internet or by satellite L band. Globally or regionally available augmentation systems such as EGNOS and WAAS, and those smaller systems for DGPS-type positions, are also used where it’s necessary as a fallback option.

The receiver will choose what correction service it needs to use based on the user’s subscription level and the environment in which the receiver is currently operating. It knows where in the world it is and which license type the user has, so it will try to use the best available source without the user needing to really think about it. The user just specifies to which precision level they want to subscribe — such as one centimeter or 10 centimeters — and the receiver figures out the rest. Catalyst also supports those customers who have their own correction services and want to use it. In most cases, however, that’s not necessary.

Does the current version of Trimble Catalyst differ from the previous version in any other way?

With the latest generation of Catalyst you no longer need a high-end phone to run the service because we have removed the reliance on USB to deliver the data from the antenna to the controlling device. Now, you can effectively do all the computation in the antenna and use Bluetooth for data transfer, which makes it a bit more versatile. Additionally, we have introduced a handle that allows you to use the DA2 in a handheld format that also stores a battery pack.

The biggest leap was certainly the addition of iOS support. After releasing the DA1, we quickly realized that it was not addressing your needs if you were not an Android user it. In North America, more than 70% of business organizations prefer Apple to Android. So, this improvement has more than doubled our addressable customer base. It’s also for those mixed fleet organizations that did not adopt Catalyst because they did not want to have one solution for their Android users and a different one for their iOS users.

What markets and applications are you targeting with it?

We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response to DA2 and the types of customers that we are seeing. We define our customers in four buckets. One consists of small, independent, non-geospatial businesses, which is a new area for us—the geospatially enabled workforce, people who are using applications that have a location component, who previously would not have been able to justify the purchase of dedicated and expensive equipment. In this bucket I would put landscape gardeners for example, or golf course designers or people who now can create a map much more easily and effectively.

Another consists of consultants and contractors. These are organizations small and large doing geospatial contract work. They are specialists who get sent out into the field to either do mass data collection projects or to consult and provide professional services with a geospatial bent. These are much more traditional customers; they know a little bit more about the technology and what they’re doing. For these customers, Catalyst is a new tool. It enables them to deploy GNSS more broadly across their organizations.

Then there are the sort of organizations and businesses that run their own teams and perhaps have their own GIS department and a field crew dedicated to operating and maintaining the GIS. But they also have the field operations groups, who aren’t geospatially savvy or aren’t geospatial professionals. They’re starting to deploy GNSS across their teams more effectively, as well, because Catalyst is the type of tool that you can keep in the glove box of your car and have available to use at a moment’s notice. So, utilities, municipalities, public works organizations and the like, large federal government agencies in the United States especially.

Finally, the owners of large infrastructure assets, privately owned organizations running ports or oil and gas operations. Again, this is an attractive solution for them. We’re finding that this solution will enable us to address the full range of the market much more effectively.

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Simplifying the lidar survey requires unity of hardware and software

From OxTS 

OxTS manufactures inertial navigation systems (INS) and proprietary software on which survey professionals have come to rely. Our devices, the Survey+ and the xNAV650, output highly accurate position, heading and pitch/roll measurements. An advanced navigation engine combines streams of data from onboard inertial measurement units (IMUs) and GNSS receivers. This data can then be used in a multitude of applications including lidar survey, mobile mapping and open road positioning.

Surveying, especially with a lidar sensor, can be a complicated art. There are many factors to consider even before you begin. However, system manufacturers involved in the survey industry, such as OxTS, are taking steps to simplify lidar survey.

The end goal for many lidar surveyors is to create an accurate point cloud. However, to produce the best possible results, the hardware and software involved must be working together in unison.

Hardware = lidar sensor and INS
Software = georeferencing, post-process and configuration

In this article, we have picked out a few of our favorite developments on the topic of simplifying lidar survey.

Research and Development

OxTS invests substantially in research and development to ensure that our hardware and software developments meet the ever-evolving demands of the survey industry. Many of the improvements generally center around improving accuracy, clarity of results and user experience. However, general industry demands also drive some development.

For example, the increasing use of drones in surveying has increased demand for smaller and lighter INS hardware. Whilst developing smaller and lighter hardware is therefore important it cannot be to the detriment of reliability and accuracy. The xNAV650 was born from this industry demand.

Although development of the xNAV650 was primarily driven by the needs of the survey industry (smaller/lighter hardware), other improvements OxTS has made to the software portfolio has focused on improving user experience.

Photo:xNAV650 and Survey+ inertial navigation systems. (Photo: OxTS)

xNAV650 and Survey+ inertial navigation systems. (Photo: OxTS)

Precision Time Protocol (PTP)

One of the major advances in OxTS INS technology over the past 12 months is PTP. The drive to include PTP capability on all OxTS Survey INS devices was the intention to help surveyors simplify the lidar survey set-up process.

When using compatible lidar sensors, such as those from Hesai and Ouster with an OxTS INS, surveyors no longer need to build complex wiring solutions. A simple ethernet ‘plug-and-play’ process is all that is required.

The images below show a traditional PPS wiring set-up vs PTP:

A traditional PPS wiring set-up vs PTP. (Image: OxTS)

A traditional PPS wiring set-up vs PTP. (Image: OxTS)

Software

To get the desired outcome, an accurate georeferenced point cloud, from any lidar survey in a timely manner the software must be simple and straightforward to use. As the saying goes “complexity is the enemy of execution,” and this is what drives software development at OxTS.

Once the lidar and INS are plugged in and ready to survey, configuration should be straightforward. A simple configuration wizard, such as the one available in NAVsuite (OxTS’ complimentary software toolbox) should structure the set-up process so that nothing is missed.

NAVconfig – OxTS’ INS configuration software. (Image: OxTS)

NAVconfig – OxTS’ INS configuration software. (Image: OxTS)

The latest NAVsuite update (version 3.3) included a new PTP graphical user interface (GUI) to simplify survey set-up even further.

Other tools are included within NAVsuite that allow users to analyze, troubleshoot and post-process their INS data. Read the NAVsuite for Survey and Mapping infosheet to find out more about these.

OxTS Georeferencer

OxTS Georeferencer. (Image: OxTS)

OxTS Georeferencer. (Image: OxTS)

Since its launch approximately two years ago, OxTS Georeferencer has gone through some major changes. The first version included compatibility with the Velodyne VLP-16 lidar sensor. This meant that users of the VLP-16 had a quick and simple way to georeference the lidar data.

Over the course of the next 24 months, multiple new sensors have been introduced. Sensors from Hesai, Ouster, Livox and new Velodyne devices are now available, giving users more choice than ever before when it comes to choosing the hardware to do their job. Visit the OxTS Georeferencer product page for a complete list of available sensors.

Furthermore, as well as the integration of new sensors, we have introduced a raft of new features to improve the user experience for professional lidar surveyors. These include:

  • a 3D hardware setup viewer to enable quick and intuitive survey configuration
  • multiple processing options that allow users to view and process only the areas of the point cloud that are of interest therefore minimizing the data size
  • the ability for users to process data in a range of coordinate systems including, local coordinates, ECEF, LLA (latitude, longitude and altitude)
  • processing advances that enable users to process data faster than ever before.

Data-Driven Boresight Calibration

One of the most challenging parts of the lidar survey set-up process is aligning the coordinate frames of the lidar and INS devices. Failure to align these with sufficient accuracy can lead to blurring and double-vision in point clouds.

Many surveyors try to do this by eye, or by developing expensive CAD models, however there is a simpler, quicker and more cost-effective way – using data.

Built into OxTS’ lidar georeferencing software OxTS Georeferencer, there is an optional boresight calibration tool. It requires the surveyor to survey two static “targets” (see the images below) from multiple distances and angles. The data is then calibrated, and the angle displacement calculated to a tenth of a degree.

OxTS Georeferencer includes an optional boresight calibration tool. (Photos: OxTS)

OxTS Georeferencer includes an optional boresight calibration tool. (Photos: OxTS)

Once the initial boresight calibration has taken place, if the setup is not altered in any way, the coordinate frame alignment will be valid for any future survey.

The Future

In the coming weeks and months, the development of new hardware and software features will further streamline the survey process.

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Paolo Guglielmini to be appointed new president and CEO for Hexagon

Ola Rollén to be proposed as chairman of the board

Logo: Hexagon ABHexagon AB has announced that Paolo Guglielmini will succeed Ola Rollén as president and CEO of Hexagon AB, effective Dec. 31.

Gun Nilsson has decided to step down as CEO for Hexagon’s principal shareholder MSAB on Oct. 1 and leave her position as chairman of Hexagon AB at the Annual General Meeting  (AGM) 2023. MSAB, in consultation with Hexagon’s nomination committee, will propose Ola Rollén as new chairman of the board at the AGM 2023.

Guglielmini, currently Hexagon’s chief operating officer (COO) and president of Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence (MI) division, has served in key roles since joining Hexagon in 2010, from strategy and business development to M&A and general management. He has been instrumental in expanding MI’s focus towards software-centric quality data solutions, and with his team driving the business towards all-time-high performance in 2021. Before joining Hexagon, Guglielmini held positions at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland and Accenture. He holds a master of science in engineering and master of business administration from IMD.

”I’m happy that we have found an internal solution for my succession, which will bring long-term stability and continuity, but at the same time needed rejuvenation as we prepare this amazing company for the next big leap strategically,” Rollén said. “I have preoccupied myself with the well-being of Hexagon 24/7 for the last 22 years, and it’s a true privilege to be able to continue to follow the company’s successful development as chairman.”

“I’m honoured by the opportunity to build upon the legacy that Ola and our team have created over the past two decades, and excited to lead Hexagon into the future,” Guglielmini said. “We are very well positioned to capitalize on the vast opportunities ahead, combining software, sensors and autonomous technologies to create sustainable value for our stakeholders.”

At the same time, the following organizational changes will be made:

Josh (Joshua) Weiss, currently COO of Hexagon Geosystems, will succeed Guglielmini as president for Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, effective July 1. Weiss has served in multiple leadership roles since joining Hexagon in 2015, from his most recent role to the president of Geosystems’ mining and heavy construction businesses. Weiss will report to Hexagon’s president and CEO and be a part of the Executive Management Team.

Michael Ritter, currently president of Hexagon Autonomy & Positioning, will assume a new senior role overseeing Hexagon’s Autonomy & Positioning, Mining and Agriculture divisions, effective immediately. In this role, Ritter will be responsible for leading the strategy of the businesses, to accelerate synergies and strengthening the solutions portfolio for Hexagon’s customers. Ritter will continue reporting to Hexagon’s president and CEO and be a part of the executive management team.

Maria Luthström, currently head of Sustainability and Investor Relations for Hexagon, will succeed Ritter as president of Hexagon Autonomy & Positioning, effective Oct. 1. Luthström joined Hexagon in 2015 and has been instrumental in expanding the company’s strategy and environmental, social and governance agenda, strengthening Hexagon’s culture and increasing shareholder value. Luthström will report to Michael Ritter.

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Thales Alenia Space takes new steps in EGNOS and Galileo

Contract signed with EUSPA to develop the next version of EGNOS

Thales Alenia Space, the joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has signed a new contract with the EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) to develop, qualify and deploy the new European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) version.

Thales Alenia Space has also just reached a new milestone in the Galileo program with the integration of a new satellite into Galileo’s Ground Mission Segment (GMS) which will improve positioning service for 3.3 billion users.

EGNOS Upgrade

Thales Alenia Space will provide EUSPA and the EU navigation community with a new version of EGNOS (V243). Its operations will be secured by a new state-of-the art Navigation Land Earth Station technology developed by Thales Alenia Space – NLES-G3.

The NLES transmits the EGNOS message containing all accuracy and integrity corrections to the geostationary satellites for broadcast to users such as aviation operators. Thales Alenia Space NLES-G3 will be integrated with a new geostationary satellite, GEO3, which will enhance the EGNOS system and its end-to-end performance.

Certification and commissioning of this latest version is slated for 2024.

Galileo Milestone

Thales Alenia Space also is the prime contractor for Galileo First Generation’s Ground Mission Segment. Galileo has achieved a milestone with the Galileo constellation approaching final steps before its completion with the  GSAT0223 satellite. GSAT0223 will increase the operational constellation to 23 satellites for positioning and 25 for search and rescue.

The new satellite has successfully been positioned in orbit and its payload signals inserted in the Ground Mission Segment (GMS) operational chain of Galileo. The GMS is generating the world’s most accurate satellite ephemerids, enabling decimetric ranging accuracy.

With the entry in service of this satellite, the GMS now serves more than 3,3 billion Galileo users who will benefit from an enhanced positioning and timing service.

Photo: Thales Alenia Space

Photo: Thales Alenia Space

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Hexagon | NovAtel Creating a digital world

Photo: Hexagon | NovAtel

Hexagon | NovAtel’s CPT7 integrates a GNSS receiver and an INS to deliver up to centimeter-level accuracy. (Photo: Hexagon | NovAtel)

We discussed mobile mapping with Bryan Leedham, product manager of enclosures and post-processing software, NovAtel, Autonomy & Positioning division, Hexagon.

How do you define mobile mapping?

It is getting broader in scope, as more folks find reasons to map the world. The key goal is to capture reality from mobile platforms to build a digital representation of reality for some large area, such as a city, a road or a factory. Most of the time, that means from a ground vehicle on public roads.

It’s also safer and faster than traditional surveying because you don’t have to stop traffic or dodge it.

Right! In an ideal world, rather than spending days setting up traditional survey equipment, you could strap some sensors on a mobile platform and gather accurate map data in minutes.

What are the key remaining technical challenges?

Picture one of Google’s or Waymo’s mapping vehicles. The first sensors that come to mind are GNSS, inertial, lidar and radar. Each of those has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. The first technical challenge that remains is to mature each of those technologies for a lower enough cost that it’s affordable.

Right now, mobile-mapping vehicles are quite expensive, especially in areas where some of these sensors will struggle more than others. To map very dense urban spaces — with underground areas, overpasses and tall buildings where GPS is challenged — you need a very strong localization system that can survive those conditions for however long it takes to drive through them. If I’m building a car to map rural Alberta, I could choose much cheaper sensors than if I were trying to map downtown Chicago every week.

On the flip side, you must deal with the massive amounts of data collected.

Yes, that is a very large challenge. Lidar data, in particular, is guilty of generating very large point clouds. It’s a balancing act. More accurate and higher resolution maps require lidar sensors with even denser point clouds. So, you need data management and sufficient processing power to get accurate results quickly.

What are the key technical challenges in sensor fusion?

Sensor fusion is how we approach the goal of mapping as accurately as possible in increasingly difficult environments. On their own, GNSS receivers struggle in obstructed areas but, when you pair them with other sensors, they become very complementary.

Lidar and cameras, for example, are quite good at measuring the distance to nearby objects and at classifying them, but they have no idea where they are relative to one another. Likewise, if you let an IMU [inertial measurement unit] sit in your car, it will no longer know its location. However, once you give it a position update, it is very good at maintaining a trajectory over a short period of time. When you combine absolute and relative localization, all the sensors play to their own strengths.

What is NovAtel’s SPAN software?

It stands for synchronous position, attitude and navigation. It is the sensor-fusion software that combines the GNSS, inertial and whatever other sensors. It is based on core NovAtel GNSS receiver software. We can use NovAtel receivers in combination with IMUs from a wide range of manufacturers and, in the future, hopefully, other sensors from a variety of manufacturers as well.

SPAN started with blending just GNSS and inertial but we’re now researching how to bring in such things as lidar and cameras. Autonomous Stuff, another Hexagon company, works on the greater sensor fusion using SPAN as well.

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Applanix: NOAA’s eye for hurricanes

Photo: NOAA

High-resolution imagery geolocated by the sixth-generation Digital Sensor System (DSS) after Hurricane Ida. (Photo: NOAA)

a We discussed this collaboration with Joe Hutton, the company’s director of inertial technology, land and airborne products. Please describe Applanix’s collaboration with NOAA.

Please describe Applanix’s collaboration with NOAA.

We worked with them to develop a solution that allowed them to get out in the field and produce high-accuracy map products with minimal touching of the data. In mid-2021, we delivered the next generation of this solution, or DSS version 6, which represents the culmination of everything learned over the years about how to produce imagery for emergency response, in terms of the types of collection, the types of imagery, and how to get it into first responders’ hands as quickly as possible.

At the heart of the system is our direct georeferencing technology. It’s a solution that allows us to assign the geographic location of every pixel of the digital imagery collected in the air. As soon as you land, you have the coordinates of every pixel, which means you have a map that NOAA then pushes to the cloud for first responders to use in their emergency response efforts.

The collaboration consisted of Applanix working with Lead’Air to manufacture a next-generation system that meets NOAA’s latest requirements. That’s what we delivered in 2021. Weeks after delivery, NOAA was called to respond to several hurricanes. They flew the new system with great success and were able to use it for their response.

What is your perspective on ground control points (GCPs) versus direct georeferencing?

It is impossible to place GCPs in an emergency response when you cannot get on the ground. People who say they need GCPs do not really understand direct georeferencing. The NOAA system does not use GCPs, and the map products are at centimeter-level accuracy.

We use Trimble’s RTX technology, which enables centimeter-level GNSS positioning without base stations, which is important when the CORS or local RTN is unreliable due to a disaster. We have high-accuracy inertial systems that get us the orientation, so that we can go directly to ortho photos and ortho mosaics without running any triangulation or using GCPs in that process. GCPs are only there for quality control.

What are your system’s components?

This system encompasses all the lessons learned over the years in terms of what NOAA needs to optimize both their coastal mapping and their emergency response. It incorporates two pairs of color and near-infrared Phase One cameras configured in an oblique format with some overlap, forming a bowtie footprint on the ground.

You have 100% overlap of the color with the near-infrared, and it’s on a high-performance stabilized mount that keeps everything perfectly level. The mount also has a special feature that enables the operators to rotate the cameras to go into nadir mode, mostly for traditional coastal mapping that requires stereo imagery. We were able to incorporate into a single system the requirements for both emergency response — where you want large coverage and obliqueness to look for damage — and nadir for coastal mapping.

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Thales and Syrlinks to develop quantum clocks for France

Thales logoThales and Syrlinks have signed a multi-year contract with the French defence procurement agency (DGA) to develop a new generation of tiny, high-performance atomic clocks.

Code-named Chronos, these new quantum clocks will meet the requirements of numerous civil and military applications. With their very high stability (error of less than 1 second in tens of thousands of years), defence electronics equipment will be able to operate when a GNSS signal is unavailable, for example due to hostile jamming.

Working with the procurement agency, the partners will help safeguard France’s technological sovereignty in GNSS-denied positioning, guidance, navigation and encrypted military communications. In civil applications (5G network synchronization, transport, energy, etc.), the Chronos quantum clocks will deliver low price and high performance to French and international customers.

Large swaths of the modern economy now rely on satellites for synchronization. GNSS technology provides the precise time reference for critical infrastructure such as 4G/5G networks, internet, air and rail transport, energy networks, global banking transactions and high-frequency trading, which would quickly fail if the signal were unavailable. In view of this high level of dependency, backup systems are needed to ensure that our civil and military infrastructure can continue to operate even if the GNSS timing signal is unavailable.

Thales’s industrial facility in Vélizy-Villacoublay and the Thales Research & Technology center in Palaiseau, both near Paris, have the industrial capabilities and talent to manufacture the atomic and optical core of these future quantum clocks.

Syrlinks — a French company based in Rennes, Brittany — specializes in satellite radiocommunications, radionavigation systems and miniature atomic clocks, and its products were selected to equip 650 satellites for the American operator OneWeb. The company will develop the electronic brain of the Chronos clock and guarantee its high-precision timing function.

The CNRS will provide critical scientific support for this project via its SYRTE (Observatoire de Paris) and Femto-ST (Université de Franche-Comté) joint research units.

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Advancing the A in PTA

Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio

The May 4-5 meeting of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Advisory Board focused on its mantra to “protect, toughen and augment” (PTA) GPS. The meeting included three great presentations that bear directly on the A of that mantra.

CAST

The electric grid used to be simpler: regional operators flowed power unidirectionally from stations to customers basing the load on past usage. Now, the grid is becoming a wide-area network — with regional inter-connects, multi-directional flows, and load based on real-time data and predictive analysis, requiring sensors time-synchronized within 1 microsecond from UTC. Yet, this critical infrastructure’s timing applications depend entirely on vulnerable GPS technology.

“If we can provide an authoritative, trusted synchronization source across the interconnected grid, its operators have a much better opportunity to understand the interdependencies and movement of power across their networks,” said Carter Christopher of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He described the lab’s Center for Alternate Synchronization and Timing (CAST), which provides a redundant and resilient satellite-based service backed up by a network of terrestrial master clocks. CAST is precise, traceable and secure from jamming, spoofing, cyberattacks and physical attacks.

HARS

Attila Komjathy and Larry Romans of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) proposed a GPS high-accuracy and resilience service (HARS) based on global differential GPS (GDGPS). It would provide corrections to GPS orbit and clock errors, and encrypted navigation data bits over the internet. It would match Galileo in accuracy, they said, pointing out that Galileo, QZSS and BeiDou provide high-accuracy services in their broadcast signals. HARS would improve the accuracy of consumer GPS receivers of 3–5 m to 1 m and help ensure that multi-constellation GNSS chips would continue to rely on GPS first.

HARS could be implemented by having commercial providers—such as Apple, Google and cellular carriers—distribute GDGPS corrections generated by JPL and supported by government partners. Private industry, Komjathy and Romans pointed out, provide service for RTK, centimeter and decimeter apps, but only governments (the U.S. Coast Guard’s DGPS service and Galileo’s HAS) provide corrections for about one-meter accuracy. Therefore, HARS would not compete with industry and would create additional opportunities for it to create value-added products.

αPNT

David Castiel and Cyrus Langroudi, of Virtual Geosatellite LLC, proposed αPNT, a virtual geostationary satellite system with elliptical orbits that would provide active PNT in a distributed architecture integrated with a blockchain. The system, they said, would be able to provide very accurate geographical position, precise timing and guidance with a minimum number of satellites on the horizon. It would rely on two-way links between transceivers and satellites to protect against jamming or spoofing.

While GPS’s success makes it a critical and ubiquitous infrastructure, its vulnerabilities require and stimulate exciting new R&D. Stay tuned.

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Quectel releases GNSS module LC29H with RTK and dead reckoning

Photo: Quectel

Photo: Quectel

Quectel Wireless Solutions has released the LC29H, a dual-band multi-constellation GNSS module. Built using the Airoha AG3335 platform, the LC29H is available in multiple variants and optionally integrates real-time kinematic (RTK) and dead reckoning.

The LC29H series offers high performance with power efficiency to meet the market needs of high-precision positioning at the centimeter and decimeter levels. The modules are suited to an expanding market for autonomous lawn mowers, drones, precision agriculture, micro-mobility scooters and delivery robots as well as other industrial and autonomous applications.

“High-precision positioning with centimeter-level accuracy is becoming increasingly vital for many new IoT [internet of things] applications,” said Patrick Qian, Quectel CEO. “Robotics, UAV and industrial applications needing precise navigation are driving new market requirements, and we are very excited to launch our newest generation of high-precision positioning modules.”

The LC29H concurrently receives and processes signals from GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo and QZSS. The module supports L1 and L5 dual-band signal reception, speeding up convergence time, improving positioning accuracy, and achieving fast response times even when signals are interrupted. The dual-band design significantly mitigates the multipath effect experienced near high-rise buildings or in deep urban canyons, and provides reliable positioning performance, Quectel stated.

In addition, some versions of the LC29H contain a six-axis inertial measurement unit (with three-axis accelerometer and three-axis gyroscope) and integrate RTK and dead-reckoning positioning algorithms, allowing for continuous lane-level positioning where the satellite signal is partially or completely blocked, such as underground parking lots, tunnels, urban-canyons or forests. When the satellite signal is reacquired, the LC29H combines inertial sensor data with GNSS signals, and the integrated navigation can provide fast convergence times and decimeter level positioning accuracies.

The LC29H is available in variants, each targeting different application scenarios. The LC29H(EA) is aimed at the growing market of agricultural drones as well as electricity power detection terminals, and can improve the anti-interference capability of complex systems. The LC29H(BA) is well suited to agricultural machinery and specialized vehicles, and the LC29H(DA) can enable centimeter-level accuracy in connected lawnmowers and safety helmets.