Highlights from the Grand-Daddy of All GNSS Technical Conferences

September 23, 2015  - By
Tony Murfin

Tony Murfin

The ION GNSS+ 2015 Conference once again fielded a jam-packed agenda of papers on subjects  from world-wide constellation updates, through GNSS integrity, indoor navigation demonstrations, multi-constellation/function chipsets, interference mitigation and jamming detection, privacy issues, and many other very interesting subjects.   That’s GNSS+ in the conference name, as in “plus,” denoting the many other positioning, navigation, and timing technologies it covers.

Most papers contained advanced academic research, but there were also several new industrial releases. This year ION divided and clearly differentiated sessions between “System and Application Tracks,” that is, those with more direct industry content, and “Peer-Reviewed Tracks,” the so-called “pure” research.

As always, some of the most valuable takeaways of attending ION come from the numerous unrelated, off-the-record corridor conversations: an essential element, always spontaneous and much anticipated, but something that cannot be clearly identified nor put into the program.

The conference seemed to have around the same number attendees as last year with about the same number of exhibitors, even though a few of the big booths were missing. Paradoxically, some exhibitors privately said they did better and more business this year, even with fewer attendees, according to their estimates.

SPIRIT Navigation from Moscow did not have a booth, but Ruslan Budnik made sure to fill my notepad with lots about their technology, products and initiatives. They are among several companies working to add indoor navigation capability to smartphones, using existing onboard sensors and new intelligent software. Their solution concurrently uses multiple technologies including geomagnetic fingerprinting, pedestrian dead reckoning, and map matching, but does not rely on an installed beacon infrastructure. A Spirit app allows store operators to quickly map Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals and collect a Magnetic field map which matches the floor plan of the store’s venue. Spirit claims an accuracy of around 1 meter, which Ruslan proceeded to demonstrate to me in the corridors around the ION meeting rooms.

The plenary session on Tuesday night was very interesting with a presentation on the results of NASA’s planetary exploration over the last several decades, by Dr. James Green, NASA Director or Planetary Science. I learned a lot about our solar system; much more out there than one suspects, and much to be revealed in the next few years!

GPS World editor Alan Cameron once again led a preview of the planned sessions for the week, with each session chair constrained to a 5-minute rapid-fire presentation aimed at enticing as many attendees as possible. Interesting and somewhat humorous at the same time; we still got a flavor of what was to come in each track.

On Wednesday I was fortunate to be able to interview several show exhibitors.  Some of these you will also find in video footage on the magazine’s website, speaking to you straight from the show floor.

Photo: Skydel

Skydel is a relatively new exhibitor, working with Averna, both from Montreal, Canada. Averna makes signal analysis hardware on which Skydel installs software-based simulation of GNSS signals. Skydel’s objective is to be able to make their solution so affordable that every engineer could have one of these record and playback simulators on their desk, rather than having to schedule time on a central, shared multi-function simulator. An exciting new-entry product developed by an energetic group of people with a high level of ingenuity; hopefully they will succeed.

DLR antenna prototypes

DLR antenna prototypes

A robust receiver initiative from Deutsche Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), the German Aerospace Center aims to demonstrate that jamming and interference detection and mitigation can be achieved much more effectively than just at the RF level. Their processing goes deeper with such features as knowing that a source from a particular direction isn’t aligned with the current constellation, so it’s a jamming/interference suspect. Their conformal antenna development attempts to meld an antenna configuration with their signal processing capabilities. DLR is looking for partners to put these developments into commercial receiver applications.

ComNav has a new K700 family of receivers: K-700 GPS L1, Beidou B1 and Glonass L1 80 channel receiver — added to their K-708 dual frequency 198-channel dual-frequency version. The M300 Pro GNSS Receiver package includes a weather-hardened package, multiple interfaces which enable remote internet control and data access, memory and a rechargeable back-up power supply. ComNav claim the M300 Pro has been selected for the Chinese CORS network. ComNav also anticipates a name change in the near future: SinoGNSS will be their new company name.


Harxon antennas and radios

Unicore UB370 Beidou/GPS/Glonass multi-frequency OEM receiver

Unicore UB370 Beidou/GPS/Glonass multi-frequency OEM receiver

Harxon gave us an overview of their wide range of antenna and radio products, while Unicore in the next booth described their single and dual frequency receivers which they are now promoting extensively in North America.

NovAtel GAJT antijam systems

NovAtel GAJT antijam systems

As usual, NovAtel had a wide range of products on display. I was impressed that the mil-spec GAJT anti-jam product-line has now undergone testing by both the U.S. and Canadian military, and that the GAJT-AE is now flying and providing guidance protection in hostile jamming environments. Once again there were mentions of NovAtel receivers and antennas being used for research in several technical papers at the conference.

Septentrio continues to make further inroads into the high-precision GNSS receiver market, and announced several new key initiatives. The company has been selected by UNAVCO as the Geodesy Advancing Geosciences and EarthScope (GAGE) facility preferred vendor for next-generation GNSS reference station products. UNAVCO ( ) is a non-profit university-governed consortium, facilitating geoscience research and education using geodesy.

AsteRx-U dual antenna receiver

AsteRx-U dual antenna receiver

Septentrio is developing a next-generation reference receiver with UNAVCO’s inputs and evaluation feedback for the purpose of upgrading and renewing their GNSS networks. Septentrio also launched the AsteRx-U and the AsteRx-U Marine multi-constellation dual antenna receivers which incorporate the latest GNSS tracking and positioning algorithms and interference mitigation along with integrated UHF radio, Wi-Fi, USB, Bluetooth, cellular connectivity, and a spectrum analyzer which provides users with their interference profile.

Indoor Navigation

ION’s annual Indoor Navigation Demo session on Wednesday afternoon turned out to have more slides and pre-recorded testing content than actual demonstrations. The participants included Nokia HERE, Rx Networks, SPIRIT Navigation, TRX Systems, Broadcom, Indoors and Combain.

HERE was able to initially demonstrate some indoor tracking of an equipped cellphone, but the display for the audience appeared to quit after a short period. They did provide a link to allow attendees to download their software and try it for themselves.

Rx Networks is apparently focusing on self-location for indoor guidance assets, and ran a pre-recorded demo of ‘Zed’ in a Vancouver Mall – but the vertical tracking display part of the video was completely washed out for the audience.

SPIRIT Navigation ran a recording of the demo I had witnessed earlier – a quite effective, working indoor nav application on a smartphone – and then walked around the demo room, but wasn’t able to show real-time results.

TRX Systems ran a very effective real-time demo and was able to show the audience the path of their ‘walker’ as he meandered around the Conference Center, changed levels and eventually returned on cue to the demo room. They use crowd sourcing to build an initial map which then constrains sensor data from standard sensors, similar to several other presenters. This appeared to be the winning demonstration for this year’s indoor nav demo. We did hear later that they were not using sensors within the smartphone, rather a separate TRX device attached to the belt or the ‘walker’.

Broadcom ran an effective demo, albeit with considerable lag between actual and displayed position and frequent jumps between points, presumably due to the same delay problem. This was attributed to the display system used to present to the audience. They also ran a second short in-room demo which was more effective and more real-time, but apparently not as accurate as TRX from the displayed results.

Indoors also use ‘radio’ fingerprinting with GNSS data as a back-up, and Wi-Fi, BLE, magnetic and inertial data fusion along with dead-reckoning. Their recorded demo was quite effective.

Combain has a system which is required to be world-wide interoperable for machine-to-machine asset location, so they are focused on using cell and Wi-Fi IDs for navigation, with databases containing 64 million Cell IDs and 726 million Wi-Fi location IDs. They claimed accuracies of 200 meters for urban areas and 40 meters for rural. These accuracies are not suitable for indoor location so no demonstration was provided.

Pico-second test results (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Pico-second test results (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Pico-second test results

Pico-second test results

Later, I managed to catch a paper which Locata had recommended, which involved a number of Locata networks used by the U.S. Naval Observatory to demonstrate time and frequency transfer using the USNO Time Standard, with some highly accurate results: picoseconds! This paper forms the basis of GPS World magazine’s October cover story, providing more on these significant time-transfer and synchronization findings.


GRIFFIN Central Processor & Node Antenna Electronic Units

Another significant paper was presented in the Interference & Spectrum issues track. GPSat Systems Australia has been working for some time to implement a jammer/interference detection and localization system. The GRIFFIN 1000 system uses both Angle of Arrival (AoA) and Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA) to locate interference sources. GPSat claims that RF interference source in the GPS L1 band can be detected and geo-located to accuracies of a few meters within a few seconds. The system is already in production, with final production field testing underway, and customer deliveries scheduled for November.

Multi Element Antenna Array and Node Electronics

Multi Element Antenna Array and Node Electronics

As ION GNSS+ came to a close for another year, it appears that this GNSS-centric conference is weathering the industry’s apparent preference for other sector shows which may draw new paying customers. ION’s academic/technical content was top-notch as usual, unparalleled anywhere, with attendees flocking to the papers, while existing customers still found comfort in meeting their suppliers on the show floor and around the corridors of the Conference Center. The formula still seems to work for now, but the apparent feeling on the floor was that better exhibitor payback may be found elsewhere, and that this could reduce ION participants in future years. Hopefully not, since this was a very good week for everyone with whom I talked.

About the Author:

Tony Murfin is managing consultant for GNSS Aerospace LLC, Florida. Murfin provides business development consulting services to companies involved in GNSS products and markets, and writes for GPS World as the OEM Professional contributing editor. Previously, Murfin worked for NovAtel Inc. in Calgary, Canada, as vice president of Business Development; for CMC Electronics in Montreal, Canada, as business development manager, product manager, software manger and software engineer; for CAE in Montreal as simulation software engineer; and for BAe in Warton, UK, as senior avionics engineer. Murfin has a B.Sc. from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the UK, and is a UK Chartered Engineer (CEng MIET).

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