How Orolia is taking resilient PNT to the next level

June 25, 2020  - By
Photo: Orolia

Photo: Orolia

Not just supporting players, alternative positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) systems strengthen, augment and — when needed — replace GNSS. GPS World explores how companies are using alternative PNT, and talks with John Fischer of Orolia about the company’s latest developments.

GPS World: What are Orolia’s latest advances and products regarding alternative PNT?

John Fischer: Regarding timing, which we have been doing for decades, our big alternatives to GNSS are internal atomic clocks and network-based timing, such as precision time protocol (PTP). Regarding positioning and navigation, the two areas on which we focus are IMUs and getting updates from GNSS, so that, when you lose GNSS momentarily, you have something on which to coast. The breakthroughs in MEMS technologies are astounding —they are getting better and cheaper every day. That shows wonderful promise.

The other area is doing satellite navigation using low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, which are much closer to the Earth than GNSS ones and give you 30 dB or more of signal strength. We are focused the most on the Satellite Time and Location (STL) signal because it is available today. Supplementing your navigation system with updates from LEO satellites provides you some great non-GNSS navigation capability.

GPS World: The positions of LEO satellites are not monitored as closely as those of GPS satellites. Is that an issue?

JF: That is correct. You are losing accuracy by using what is available today because you do not know the positions of those satellites as well as you know those of the GNSS satellites and maybe you do not have the best geometry. All the GNSS satellites are in medium Earth orbit (MEO) because they have much better geometries for a small constellation. With just 24 satellites in MEO orbit, you get great geometries. When you go lower, you need an increasingly greater number of satellites.

The first generation of LEO satellites, the Iridium STL, are a much larger constellation, with 66 satellites, but still not enough to give you the good geometries. Today, you are getting less accuracy, but there are all kinds of new satellites being launched and the capability to track them will improve. We expect to be able to use signals from hundreds, if not thousands, of LEO satellites, so the geometry problem will start to go away and there are other things we can do to improve the accuracy. Meanwhile, we can get rather good performance with what we have today.

GPS World: What are some of your most recent advances, releases or products?

JF: On the timing side we have what we call a mini-Rubidium, the mRO-50, which we launched on June 4. Smaller, better, cheaper atomic clocks are coming out very soon.

GPS World: Do you have any comments on the recent executive order on resilient PNT?

JF: We coined the term “resilient PNT,” so we are glad to see it in use. We fully support those efforts.

GPS World: What about other alternative sources of PNT data, such as radar, lidar and signals of opportunity?

JF: Yes, they are that next level. Loran is ideal because it is so different from GNSS. When you are trying to design a reliable system, you want a lot of diversity, because if two systems have the same kinds of failure modes you have not gained in redundancy. Loran is literally at the other end of the spectrum from GNSS: It is a low-frequency microwave system. Instead of being space-based, it is land-based; instead of being low power, it is high power. However, there still are no stations up. It requires big equipment, so it will take some time.

When it comes to what you can do today, Loran does not contribute much. We support efforts to implement Loran very much, because we do need non-GNSS ways to make things resilient. Prior to GPS, we had to depend only on Loran. Today, with modern digital signal processing (DSP) techniques and receivers, I think we can expect the new Loran system to have much better accuracies than we had in the bad old days of the first generation of Loran.

The auto industry is doing a marvelous job of doing navigation using lidar or cameras. They are pretty much navigating driverless cars the way that humans drive, by just using visual cues. Those things have promise in certain unique areas.

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.