Faux signals for real results: Racelogic

August 23, 2023  - By

An exclusive interview with Julian Thomas, managing director, Racelogic. For more exclusive interviews from this cover story, click here.

In which markets and/or applications do you specialize?

We originally designed our LabSat simulator for ourselves, because we supply GPS equipment to the automotive market. Then, we decided to sell it into that market, which is our primary market, for other people to use. That’s where we started, but it has moved on since then. We supply many of the automotive companies who use it for testing their in-car GPS-based navigation systems.

However, we’ve moved on to our second biggest market, which is the companies that make deployment systems for internet satellites, which use it for end-of-life testing. Several of our customers use it. That’s because we do space simulations, so we can simulate the orbits of satellites. That’s very useful when they’re developing their satellites.

We supply many of the major GPS board manufacturers — such as NovAtel, Garmin, and Trimble — when they’re developing their boards and testing their devices. We supply many of the phone companies — such as Apple and Samsung — and many of the GPS chip manufacturers — such as Qualcomm, Broadcom, and Unicom. More or less any company that’s into GNSS.

How has the need for simulation changed in the past five years, with the completion of the BeiDou and Galileo GNSS constellations, the rise in jamming and spoofing threats, the sharp increase in corrections services, and the advent of new LEO-based PNT services?

It all started off very simple, with just GPS, which was one signal and one frequency. We got that up and working very well and it helped us a lot. Then we got into this market. In the last few years, we’ve had to suddenly invent 15 new signals. We do two systems, really: one is a record-and-replay system. You put a box in a car, on a bike, in a backpack, or on a rocket, and you record the raw GPS signals; then you can replay those on the bench. That requires greater bandwidth, greater bit depth, smaller size, battery power, all of that.

The other is pure signal simulation. We simulate the signals coming from the satellites from pure principles. So, we’ve had to dive into how those signals are structured, reproduce them mathematically, and then incorporate that in into our software. That’s been 15 times the original work we thought it would be, but as we add each signal it tends to get a bit simpler until they add new ways to encode signals, and then it gets complex again. We’ve had to increase our bandwidth, increase our bit depth for the recording to cover all of these new signals.
Because our systems record and replay, they’re used a lot to record real-world jamming. In many scenarios, our customers will take one of our boxes into the field and record either deliberate jamming or jamming that’s been carried out by a third party. Then they can replay that in the comfort of their lab.

With regards to spoofing, we’ve just improved our signal simulation. So, we can completely synchronize it with real time. We can do seamless takeover of a GNSS signal in real time. We can reproduce the current ephemeris and almanac. If we transmit a sufficiently powerful signal, we can completely take over that device. Then we can insert a new trajectory into it. That’s a very recent update we’ve done.

If the complexity and amount of your work has gone up so much in the last few years but you cannot increase your prices at the same rate, what does that do to your business model?

It’s the same people that produce the signals in the first place, so they still have a job. However, as we add more signals and capabilities, we tend to get more customers as well.

Oh, so, you’re expanding your market!

Right, right.

Regarding some of the new PNT services being developed, how do you simulate them realistically without the benefit of recordings of live sky signals?

It is all pure signals simulation. You go through the ICD line-by-line and work out the new schemes. Here’s an interesting anecdote. Our developer who does a lot of the signal development is Polish and is also fluent in Russian. When we were developing the GLONASS signals, he was working from the English version of the GLONASS ICD. He said that it didn’t make any sense. So, he looked at the Russian version and discovered that the English one had a typo. When he used the Russian version, everything worked perfectly. He told this to his contacts at GLONASS and they thanked him and updated the English translation of their document. So, you are very, very much reliant on every single word in that ICD.

Are there typically differences between the published ICD and the actual signal?

No, no. Apart from the Russian one, which had a typo, they’re very good. For example, we’ve recently implemented the latest GPS L1C signal. My developer spent six months recreating it and getting all the maths right and the only way you could test it was to connect it to a receiver and hit “go.” It just worked the first time. He almost fell off his chair. The ICD in that case was very, very accurate.

Hope that Xona’s ICD is just as good.


Are accuracy requirements for simulation increasing, to enable emerging applications?

Yes, absolutely. No one can have too much accuracy. Everyone’s chasing the goal of getting smaller, faster, and more accurate systems. They want greater precision and better accuracy from their simulators, as well as a faster response. We do real-time simulators and they want a smaller and smaller delay from when you input the trajectory to when you get the output. Luckily for us, Moore’s law is still in effect, so, as the complexity of the signals and the accuracy requirements increase, computers can churn through more data. Luckily, we’re able to keep up on the hardware side as well, because much of our processing is done using software. Some companies do it in hardware and some companies do it in software. We concentrate on the software side of things.

Here’s another interesting anecdote from my Polish guy. He noticed that the latest Intel chips contain an instruction that multiplies and divides at the same time but that it wasn’t available in Windows. So, he put in a request with Microsoft for that operational code and they incorporated it into the very latest version of dotnet, which has improved our simulation time by 7%. I see little improvements like that all the time.

Are all your simulators for use in the lab or are some for use in the field? If the latter, for what applications and how do they differ from the ones in the lab? (Well, for starters, I assume that they are smaller, lighter, and less power-hungry…)

All our systems are designed to be used inside and outside the lab. They can all be carried in a backpack, on a push bike, in a car. We do that deliberately, because we come from the automotive side of things, so we have to keep everything very small and compact.

Besides automotive, what are some field uses?

Some of our customers have put them in rockets, recording the signal as it goes up, or in boats. We have people walking around with an antenna on their wrist connected to one of our systems, so that they can simulate smartwatches. There are many portable applications. We have a very small battery-powered version, which makes it very independent.

Are there any recent success stories that you are at liberty to discuss?

Our most exciting one is a seamless transition for simulation that we developed to replace or augment GPS in tunnels. We’ve been talking to many cities around the world that are building new tunnels. Because modern cars automatically call emergency services when they crash or deploy their airbags, they need to know where they are, of course. Cities need to take this into account when they are building new tunnels, which can pass over each other or match the routes of surface streets. Therefore, accurate 3D positioning in the tunnels has become essential. It requires installing repeaters every 30 meters along each tunnel and software that runs on a server and seamlessly updates your position every 30 meters. As you enter a tunnel, your phone or car navigation system instantly switches to this system. It’s been received very well because it’s mainly software and the hardware is pretty simple. We’ve brought the cost down to a fifth of the cost of standard GPS simulators for tunnels. So, we’re talking to several cities about some very long tunnels, which is very exciting.

About the Author: Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio, GPS World’s Editor-in-Chief, possesses more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for GNSS and geospatial technology magazines. He began his career in the industry in 2000, serving as managing editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World, then as editor of Earth Observation Magazine and GIS Monitor. His technical articles have been published in more than 20 professional magazines, including Professional Surveyor Magazine, Apogeo Spatial and xyHt. Luccio holds a master’s degree in political science from MIT. He can be reached at mluccio@northcoastmedia.net or 541-543-0525.