PNT by Other Means: Safran Federal Systems

July 5, 2023  - By

An exclusive interview with Garrett Payne, Navigation Engineer, Safran Federal Systems (formerly Orolia Defense & Security). For more exclusive interviews from this cover story, click here.

What led to the Versa PNT?


Garrett Payne

It is an all-in-one PNT solution that provides positioning, navigation, and very accurate timing. We can take in GNSS signals, as well as the satellite signals, and integrates that with an IMU for a fused solution. I work on the navigation filter and software inside it. So, I’ve been able to get deep into developing and fine tuning the filter inside for an assured and robust navigation solution. I’ve been able to integrate some other new kinds of PNT technology into that as well. So, I’ve been working on projects with integrating odometry for speed and measurements from a vision-based sensor for position fixing. Those are all complementary PNT sources that help the Versa. You always have a good fused solution, even if you’re in a GNSS-degraded/denied environment.

It sounds like a sort of extreme sensor fusion, integrating every possible PNT source.

Correct. GNSS has global coverage, of course, while some positioning sources, such as UWB, are very local.

Can a Versa on a mobile platform transition seamlessly from one to the other?

It’s all very configurable. You can plug-and-play the sensors that you have. Then, you can check the integrity of each measurement source. For example, if you’re in a GNSS-degraded environment, the Versa has some software that can alert you to that and will automatically filter out those measurements, and then navigate based on the other sensors.

With UWB, if there’s nothing local and already mapped out, could you set up some transmitters very quickly, as needed?

Versa PNT. (Image: Safran Federal Systems (formerly Orolia Defense & Security))

Versa PNT. (Image: Safran Federal Systems (formerly Orolia Defense & Security))

Our goal with this project of integrating UWB technology is to identify the exact sensors that we would need. Then it would just be plug-and-play: you would take a Versa unit and plug in a UWB sensor, and it would be able to automatically detect that and talk to other Versa systems that have UWB transceivers. Once we get all the software figured out, it will be simple in GNSS-denied environments for these UWB transceivers to start talking to each other.

If you have units within a building that all have Versa PNTs with UWB, they can see each other’s relative position, but not their absolute position. However, if one of them is located at a known point, such as the entrance or a corner, that would serve as a reference for the other ones to know where they are within the building.

Right. The technology is proven. There are already sensors that do that in warehouses and other large buildings. We want to take that idea and expand it to other GNSS-denied/degraded locations. It would be the same concept: one Versa unit goes on the edge of an area and knows its location, then broadcasts it to other Versa units with UWB technology, enabling them to determine their absolute location as well.

If 50 meters is not enough to get outside the GNSS-denied/degraded area, you might set up a chain or a mash of as many units as needed.


What’s your rough timeline to go live?

Currently, we’re evaluating UWB computer technology from different vendors and integrating it in the software portion. We will probably begin performing full field tests in the first quarter of 2024.

Are there any non-defense applications, such as with first responders?
We also provide very accurate beaconing signals that are used for location purposes. So, this is an additional technology that can be used in GNSS-degraded locations — such as deep urban canyons, jungles, or inside buildings — as long as long as you’re within range of the UWB transceiver.

You could accurately survey a point inside a structure ahead of time. Then you could place your UWB transmitter in that surveyed spot and provide the coordinates to other units for use in positioning.

Right, right. If you’re thinking of a very large building in a city, on every floor you could have a beacon in a very accurately surveyed location. So, if you’re in a rush, you can automatically determine your range from different beacons and use that data to determine your position.

How long has Versa PNT been available? Did it evolve from a previous solution you had?

Our company has been founded on timing. We have VersaSync, which provides very accurate timing signals. We’ve extended on that by adding a navigation solution. Many of our customers are using the timing portion of our platforms to generate very accurate frequency reference signals. It also provides an assured navigation solution by fusing GNSS and inertial data.

What markets and applications are you targeting?

Versa PNT. (Image: Safran Federal Systems (formerly Orolia Defense & Security))

Versa PNT. (Image: Safran Federal Systems (formerly Orolia Defense & Security))

We’re providing precise position, timing, and situational awareness for different applications. Our systems can be used for ground, air, and sea-based applications. We specifically at Orolia Defense and Security [now Safran Federal Systems] market towards the U.S. government, defense organizations, and contractors. Our systems have applications beyond defense and security, as they can be used anywhere accurate position and/or timing is needed.

How does the Versa fit into the larger debate about developing complementary PNT capabilities to compensate for the vulnerabilities of GNSS?

It is an expensive, high-end solution that fits a few niches. Every type of sensor that you’re using for PNT has its strengths and weaknesses. That’s why we have a very accurate navigation filter solution that dynamically evaluates the sensor inputs. GNSS is great but not always accurate or available. Other sensors are also not always reliable. That’s why we try to make the unit and the software inside it as customizable and flexible as possible.

Can you give me a couple of use cases?

If a ground vehicle application is entering a GNSS denied/degraded environment, the Versa PNT’s software will detect any kind of GNSS threat. So, it’s going to cut off the GNSS speed and continue to provide a PNP solution based on inputs from the other sensors — such as an IMU, a speedometer, an odometer, or a camera. They’re all providing you different position feeds, so that you can still have an insured position.
The VersaPNT also contains internal oscillators that can provide very accurate timing signals.

An IMU-derived position drifts, of course, so it needs to be periodically re-initialized.

That’s why it’s important to use a navigation filter that’s initialized with a good position from GNSS or other sources, so that you can estimate and dynamically correct the IMU drift using bias terms and offsets.

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.