Expert Advice: Get Sporty

October 1, 2013  - By

mountain bikers, with navigation device

By Mark Sampson

In recent years, the sporting world has seen an explosion in the use of GPS. You will rarely spot a runner or cyclist on the road without either a smartphone strapped to their arm or a dedicated GPS device clamped to their handlebars, tracking their every move.

The amount of information that the modern sportsperson — from casual amateur to full-time professional — logs, analyzes, and shares is phenomenal. There are now dozens of ways of uploading data for the whole world to share and study.

As more manufacturers come to this market with the hope of capturing a share of it, they face the challenge of effectively developing and then testing their devices. Among many factors to consider, new products must have capability for local constellations such as BeiDou, GLONASS, and QZSS, not just GPS alone. New market entrants won’t have the same budget as the established big players, and constantly traveling to China or Japan to try out a new gadget will escalate costs to an unsustainable degree.

Then there’s the issue of getting out into the kind of environment in which you imagine your new sporting GPS device will be put to use. In many cases this will be remote: forests, hills, and mountains. Stepping outside to the office car park does not constitute a sufficient test for satellite acquisition and retention. Neither does simply driving the commute route home with it.

A GPS simulator or replay device allows for bench testing, but such devices are expensive. They might not actually fulfill your testing requirements, either: a traditional GPS simulator outputs its scenarios based on constellation modeling, either as a perfect signal or one that has simulated multipath. But you need to genuinely know how your new product will operate through, say, a forest on a downhill mountain bike run, or during a city marathon through urban canyons, or on a trail under wet trees. Adventure sport participants want to record their achievements wherever they go.

How do you obtain this kind of realistic scenario? It will require the use of a GNSS recorder, and in an ideal world you would lend it to someone who actually does some of this stuff. Perhaps one of your colleagues is an (insane) downhill skier — who better to capture exactly that type of data, which you can replay back in a nice warm lab?

The trouble is that a person of this sporting ilk will be unwilling or unable to carry bulky equipment that weighs several kilos. It will slow them down, so a GNSS recorder that can be easily carried without affecting the sporting activity is essential. It has to be easy to use: self-contained, with a battery that will last a couple of hours, and with one big button to start and stop recording. The user shouldn’t need any training in its operation. And ideally, it won’t need a large ground-plane antenna to capture usable data; a well-designed unit will employ a sensitive GPS engine allowing for as complete a signal as possible to be logged through a standard passive antenna.

Looking further afield, other industries will soon be seeking a device with this level of convenience. For instance, agricultural and automotive manufacturers want the ability to send test engineers out to record drive-cycle tests easily and in a variety of vehicles. Additional features, such as controlled area network (CAN) and inertial sensor logging, synchronized with the GNSS data, will also find favor.

The nature of the simulation market is changing: increasing numbers of developers need not just a traditional constellation simulator, but rather a replay device that is feature-rich and that doesn’t cost the earth.
Economies of scale will likely dictate the way that this develops, and GNSS simulation will no longer be the specialist and exclusive field it once was.

Mark Sampson is the LabSat product manager for  RaceLogic, based in Buckingham, UK.