Case study: Firms collaborate on product development

January 12, 2017  - By

Professional GNSS users now expect lightweight, easy-to-use receivers optimized for their particular workflows. Meanwhile, a streamlined manufacturing process means design and production of sophisticated instruments now takes months rather than years, and relies on global teams of networked specialists.

Carlson Software approached Hemisphere GNSS in early 2015 with the goal of bringing a new GNSS receiver to market, one optimized for land surveyors with high precision, convenience, and small form factor. “We work closely with land surveyors, and we definitely saw a need,” said Carlson’s director of special projects Karl Nicholas. “Our clients were asking for smaller, lighter receivers. We also felt that a new receiver could be better optimized to work with the multiple satellite constellations now available, and with the array of RTK solutions that surveyors use routinely.”

Hemisphere recognized that a new lightweight receiver would also serve its own marine clients well, especially if it was optimized to work with the company’s Atlas GNSS Global Correction Service as both rover and base station.

The S321 smart antenna by Hemisphere GNSS.

The S321 by Hemisphere GNSS. Photo: Hemisphere

Carlson focuses on computer-assisted design (CAD) software, field data collection, and machine control products for land surveying, civil engineering, construction, and mining. Through the partnership, Hemisphere gained access to a deep knowledge base of how surveyors work with GNSS in real-world conditions, and how to optimize a new receiver for fieldwork of all kinds.

This aided decisions about interface, form factor, and features. Project dialog between the two companies identified specifications for particular functions and features, as prototypes became available for testing and feedback.

Specifications included:

Compact and Durable. A form factor for a smaller receiver had already been developed. “Our hardware design and manufacturing division in China presented a hardware design that we really liked, so we didn’t have to redesign from scratch in that area,” explained Hemisphere senior product manager Lyle Geck. “We were able to move ahead with only minor modifications.”

Carlson tested rigorously before signing off on the hardware design. “I put mine on top of a two-meter pole and dropped it onto concrete and dirt, and I also tried it out in wet weather — worked fine!” recalled Nicholas.

Multiple Constellations. “We now have a receiver that works seamlessly right now with GPS, GLONASS, and the Chinese BeiDou system,” added Nicholas. “And when Europe’s Galileo system becomes available, we’ll be ready for it too.”

RTK, Correction Sources. Hemisphere’s Athena RTK engine, is designed to process the new signals with high-accuracy performance. In addition to traditional RTK correction methods using NTRIP and UHF/900 MHz radios, Hemisphere also provides Atlas, its own L-band correction service: subscription-based, flexible, available over the Earth’s landmass, from approximately 200 reference stations, providing up to sub-decimeter accuracies via L-band satellites or over the Internet.

The new receiver was also designed with a built-in UHF radio, and multiple wireless communication ports to enable corrections via radio, cellular modem, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or serial connections.

Base Station Capacity.
The receiver can serve as both rover and base station. “For our marine clients, this receiver is actually more likely to be used as a base station,” said Geck, typically set up in a port for construction or other maritime operations. Not a closed system, it works with Atlas, other protocols like TrimTalk, and with external radios that can be connected as needed.

For surveyors, Carlson specified a compass and a tilt sensor so the receiver knows if the pole is vertical, how it’s oriented horizontally, and how to correct for those factors. It works for stakeouts and recovering points; the unit directs the user to the next point graphically, saving time.

For surveyors in obstructed areas, position reliability will often degrade. “Surveyors are aware of this, but it’s hard to compensate when they don’t have information about just what’s happening with accuracy.” SureFix uses proprietary algorithms and various inputs to give a quality indicator for particular points, for confidence when shooting in difficult multipath conditions, or telling a surveyor to slow down to get the required precision. This improves fieldwork and can eliminate trips back to the field to correct errors.

Carlson Software leveraged its 30+ years in land surveying, while Hemisphere GNSS added manufacturing experience and GNSS and RTK expertise. The result is a compact receiver, BRx6 from the former and S321 from the latter, tuned for the requirements and workflows of customers’ daily projects.