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GNSS is on the go

October 5, 2023  - By
Image: CHCNav


The phrase “positioning, navigation, and timing” (PNT) — widely used in our industry, including on this magazine’s cover — encapsulates a wide range of applications for global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and for other technologies that provide some or all the same services. Subsumed under “positioning” is one of the most widespread uses of GNSS, which is data collection to make maps, enable geographic information systems (GIS), and populate the databases that power the many location-based services (LBS) applications on smartphones.

Increasingly, GNSS positioning is also integrated with systems for indoor positioning to enable seamless tracking of people, equipment and products, and with a variety of sensors to monitor their status and environmental conditions.

GNSS positioning and mapping will benefit from the advent of G5 cellular networks, which will vastly increase download speeds, decrease latencies and expand connectivity. While it will transform every industry, 5G’s impact will be especially felt in urban settings and pave the way for tomorrow’s smart cities.

In this month’s cover story, we focus on these aspects of GNSS by presenting three brief case studies:

  • Industrial automation, using u-blox receivers.
  • Golf course irrigation planning and construction, using Trimble Catalyst.
  •  Land surveys to update China’s national GIS, using a CHC Navigation LT700 receiver.

Safety with industrial automation

Industrial automation is an extremely wide area,” said Ludger Boeggering, u-blox senior principal segment manager, EMEA Energy & Automation. “It includes process and production automation, where it is used to automate the production environment. In more remote conditions, where it is less time-critical, it is used to understand what happens in the automation environment. Lastly, it is used to remotely supervise and monitor what is happening in such an environment.”

Nowadays, businesses want to monitor their production environment “all the way down to the production of a single device,” Boeggering said. “That’s the area in which we operate.”

One application of industrial automation on which u-blox is increasingly focusing is the safe, connected worker, which can refer to someone inside a building on a factory floor or someone outside, such as on a construction site. Another one is mobile robotics and collaborative robotics.
“Our customers are in all segments and verticals — including electronics, machine manufacturing, oil and gas, transportation, chemical, food, water, paper and energy,” Boeggering said. “It’s really a broad spectrum of industrial companies that are using these tools and products. We are focused on the leading customers in that area and are working with well-known players in the market.”

5G is an umbrella for different flavors of the technology that includes enhanced mobile broadband and ultra-low latency. “There has been much hype about this,” Boeggering said. “In the beginning, everyone focused on low latency and, potentially, high bandwidth. In reality however, customers realized that it would be too expensive to implement it so as to have both.” This led to the emergence of 5G RedCap, which stands for reduced capability. “It covers a bit of the low latency stuff and a bit of the higher bandwidth stuff, but also makes it more cost effective.”

For many applications, such as video and augmented reality, latency is less important than speed. Then there’s the question of reliability. “Nowadays, reliability and availability are the most important issues,” Boeggering said. “If you have an automation process with very high motion, you definitely need high reliability and low latency.”

Factories can now set up their own environment and combine communication technologies, using low latency and many sensors. “For example, on the campus of a chemical factory you have some critical processes that require reliable connectivity,” Boeggering explained. “There, 5G can provide that. At the same time, there are hundreds of thousands of sensors to be connected. This requires a private network environment that can be controlled.”

Image: SeventyFour/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Image: SeventyFour/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

“The reason for going wireless is less about being mobile and more about being flexible — such as setting up or re-arranging a production line in a very short time,” Boeggering said. “It normally takes a car manufacturer nine to 12 months to set up a production line for a car. It requires a lot of cables and installations. These guys aim to bring that time down to three months. That means that when they are starting to rebuild a construction area, in the best case, they can make the connectivity for all the communications entirely wireless and just plug the machines into the power.”

Construction sites require a solution that provides a seamless indoor-outdoor location. For example, a construction company may want to know the location of all its tools on a large campus. When they are outside, they can be easily located with GNSS. More often, however, they are inside concrete walls. “Nowadays, we don’t really have a solution that covers that indoor-outdoor area seamlessly,” Boeggering said. “On a construction site, you can’t set up an infrastructure to do that. So, you need one that is already available. There 5G might be able to help.”

u-blox can provide solutions that fit across the communication technologies. “5G is not the only technology that will be used in industrial automation environments,” Boeggering pointed out. “We have the portfolio, starting with GNSS when it comes to location, and, when it comes to short range, wireless, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and of course, cellular. We are providing to these OEMs the right components to create the final solution, including positioning and communication services.”

“The customers, who want to know where their equipment is, do not care whether that information is derived using GNSS, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi,” Boeggering said. “They just want to know in which room it is, on which level, or in which area of their factory. Of course, customers certainly would like centimeter precision. However, the question is whether they want to pay for it. GNSS plays a huge role for location outside and close to windows. However, once you can’t get this data, you need an alternative solution. This can be done in combination with any wireless technology. There are use cases in which Bluetooth might work independently from GNSS, but when it comes to Wi-Fi or cellular 5G, GNSS is definitely helping to get the location. So, we always play a role.”

Irrigating the green

“We’ve always used GPS equipment to map out our clients’ properties across the country,” said Michael Kuhn, owner of Michael Kuhn & Associates Inc., in Birmingham, Michigan, which specializes in irrigation systems for golf courses. “Very rarely do they have an accurate base map of the property. So, instead of going to third parties, we decided 20 years ago to buy our own GPS equipment and map these properties ourselves as a starting point to do our design work for new irrigation systems,” Kuhn said.


The Trimble Catalyst. (Image: Trimble)

Since starting his business, Kuhn is now on his third or fourth generation of Trimble equipment. “Convenience and time are always key factors with me,” he said. “As this equipment has evolved, it’s become more user friendly, and more convenient.”

He spends a lot of time on the road and needed a way to collect data on golf courses and get it to his staff back at the office, so that they could clean it up and get it ready for him as quickly as possible. Before Trimble released Catalyst, he had to go back to his hotel, remote into his office computer and transfer the data from his laptop through some kind of cloud-based device. “Now, with this new Catalyst equipment, it is so much more streamlined, and the price point has been fantastic,” Kuhn said. “Everything’s now going subscription-based anyway. Not just software but hardware as well. That allows me to do a few more things that I couldn’t do before.”

The golf courses around the country with which Kuhn works are constantly doing projects and updating infrastructure. “We end up being the gatekeepers for the overall mapping for our clients’ golf courses for infrastructure,” he said.

Before Trimble released Catalyst, Kuhn recalled, some of his clients spent up to $30,000 for equipment that would collect data sufficiently accurate to incorporate into his mapping.

“When Trimble came out with Catalyst and a subscription-based pricing, depending on what kind of accuracy you need, it was a no brainer. The first group that I thought of was my clients — giving them the ability to get entry-level subscriptions, but still be able to maintain centimeter-grade accuracy because they’re using an hourly subscription instead of paying thousands of dollars a year.”

Kuhn also uses aerial photogrammetry.

“Not that long ago, it was tough to get your hands on ortho-corrected aerial photography that could match up with my base maps,” he recalled. “I would typically go to municipalities. More and more of them have GIS departments now. Often, I could get access to ortho-corrected aerial photography from them, either for free or at a cost. It was accurate, but you would be at the mercy of whenever the county was doing its aerial photography,” Kuhn continued.

Then Kuhn came across Nearmap and began to use their aerial photography. “It wasn’t ortho-rectified at all, but they were flying multiple times a year,” Kuhn said. “It was nice to incorporate it into what we were doing, to make sure that I could see the latest and greatest overhead of whatever property I was looking at.” When Nearmap switched to a subscription-based business model, however, Kuhn did not sign up because the images were not georeferenced. “It’s a lot of work when you must manipulate an aerial and get it to match up to a base map. Then, probably two or three years ago, they started to geo-reference their aerial imagery and we signed up and they’ve been great.”

Right now, Kuhn’s equipment is close to centimeter-grade. “We were the first independent irrigation consulting partners to get this three-dimensional hydraulic modeling software to run our irrigation systems,” he said. “In a three-dimensional model, before we even finalized drawing, we were able to model the systems that we were designing that could tell us what pressure drops were across a 500-acre piece of property three dimensionally.” That required a topo map of the property, which he would get from the relevant county.

Pump stations for golf course irrigation systems pump 2,000 or 3,000 gallons a minute across hundreds of acres, sometimes in the mountains and typically full of steep inclines.

Image: Michael Kuhn & Associates Inc.

Image: Michael Kuhn & Associates Inc.

“It could be in Colorado or Salt Lake City or in a place flat as a pancake, but it is absolutely critical to still have the ability to run that hydraulic model and have accurate data flow horizontally and vertically,” Kuhn said. “With the data that we have now, I can run an irrigation cycle in multiple different ways and tell the end user what the pressure is in the back left corner of a green within 1/100 psi. It’s invaluable.”

Kuhn supports his clients in many ways. “Since the Trimble Catalyst equipment came out, I’ve recommended to my clients and to contractors that they switch to it. Golf course building contractors have always had good equipment, such as total stations, and this was just another tool that they could have to collect data quickly and easily.”

Additionally, Kuhn pointed out, Catalyst provides a sharing platform. “So, I could create a team for a golf course and then they could get the same equipment and create a project and we can make each other part of each other’s team. So, they have access to all the data that they collect and all the data that I collect, to the extent that I give them permission to use them. That’s critical. I mean, sharing data with contractors is another component that we really didn’t have before.”

Collecting data for GIS

Image: CHC Navigation

Image: CHC Navigation

CHC Navigation is assisting China’s Ministry of Natural Resources to conduct its third national land survey. The ministry regularly organizes nationwide land surveys to update the country’s national GIS database, including spatial and attribute information. In addition, surveyors are required to take multiple high-resolution images of each area in different directions to provide verification information. As the project progresses, all data will be uploaded to a server via a cellular (4G) connection. In terms of accuracy, this project requires an expected accuracy in the order of one meter.

For this project, China’s Ministry of Natural Resources used the CHCNAV LT700 rugged Android tablet. Featuring an 8-in screen viewable in direct sunshine and in high-bright areas, the LT700 is well suited to display GIS data tables, complex vector and raster maps or high-resolution pictures. Unlike consumer tablets, the L700’s IP67 industrial design withstands daily use in harsh environments and conditions. Protected from dust, rain, extreme temperatures and accidental drops from 1.2 m, the LT700 is an advanced solution for such applications as forestry, utilities, asset management or environmental studies. Bearing the Google Mobile Service (GMS) certification, the LT700 runs seamlessly the most common professional data collection applications available from the Google Play store.

The main challenges associated with using data collectors in the field are related to the natural environment and the need to ensure reliable georeferencing accuracy down to the meter. Surveyors and GIS technicians work in a variety of environments, including cities, mountains, plateaus and forests. They can work for up to eight hours in rain, snow and extreme temperatures. As a result, their equipment must be well protected from shocks and bad weather, with long battery life and a high-brightness display.

A GIS specialist collecting the locations of assets using an LT700H RTK Android tablet by CHC Navigation, which has centimeter accuracy. (Image: CHC Navigation)

A GIS specialist collecting the locations of assets using an LT700H RTK Android tablet by CHC Navigation, which has centimeter accuracy. (Image: CHC Navigation)

With the LT700 rugged tablet, surveyors can focus on collecting data in the field without interruptions or wasted time, and without worrying about weather conditions. The device delivers metric accuracy with SBAS support, which greatly improves the reliability of georeferencing and the consistency of collected data, regardless of the operator. Its lightweight construction and convenient size make it easy to transport on foot, especially when working in mountainous terrain or crossing rivers. The LT700’s 4G connectivity has made it possible to continuously update data and organize work sessions based on updated data.

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 or 541-543-0525.