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‘GNSS is a core technology for Trimble’

Trimble is positioned to extend its core technologies to the new markets, says Elmar Lenz, General Manager, Geospatial GNSS, Trimble Navigation

How has GNSS expanded its horizon beyond the basic characteristics of navigation and tracking?

Applications for GNSS appear in many parts of the consumer market. Smartphones and personal and vehicle navigation are just two examples. As a result, GNSS positions are becoming a commodity in many consumer items. In the professional markets, GNSS is now found in many industries where positioning can be combined with other information to simplify and accelerate work processes. For example, integrating GNSS with gas detection sensors helps workers detect emission levels at landfills and industrial plants.

The increasing demand for satellite navigation and communications is driven primarily by the demand from militaries. However, this demand has expanded to other areas too. Which are the businesses driving this trend?

The largest growth by far comes from civil applications for GNSS. This is driven by the “traditional” applications including surveying, agriculture (precision farming), construction, and transport & logistics, geodesy, engineering and GIS. The past 15 years has also seen strong demand coming from the survey, construction and agriculture markets.

With the modernisation of GPS, and global satellite navigation systems like GLONASS, BeiDou and Galileo already functioning, what opportunities do the new signals present to you and how are you preparing for them?

Improvements to GNSS provide important benefits to end users in all disciplines. Beginning with the introduction of the L2C GPS signals, we have provided support for new signals as they become available. As an industry leader, we are committed to supporting all efforts to expand and modernise GNSS, including more and larger GNSS constellations and enhanced signals. We can use these advances to achieve positions in difficult situations such as urban canyons, buildings and dense vegetation canopy. The enhanced satellite segment enables us to increase the availability of accurate, reliable positions in these harsh environments.

How does the system of coordinating multiple GNSS signals work? What are few considerations in terms of technology, standards and interoperability while using signals from multiple constellations?

The key consideration here is the Interface Control Document (ICD) that is published by the various organisations and governments that operate the GNSS constellations. The ICD defines the signals and provides the information needed to design a GNSS receiver. GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS and BeiDou all have public ICDs. [Editor’s note: In September, ISRO released its Interface Control Document (ICD) for Standard Positioning Service for IRNSS.] A second important document is a performance standard, which defines the guaranteed performance level. This is important because many of our differential systems (such as Trimble RTX) need the best possible estimates for clocks and orbital parameters.

Once the key documents are available, most of the system interoperability issues can be solved as part of the detailed receiver design. The UN-based International Committee on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (ICG) was established to promote cooperation between the governments providing GNSS services on civil satellite based positions. We monitor these activities as well as those of a variety of various other national and international bodies promoting and operating GNSS.

A recent GNSS Market report from the European GNSS Agency (GSA) informs that the swiftly changing technological environment requires constant innovation on the supply side. How is this happening?

We reinvest 13 percent of our revenues directly into research and development, which enables us to maintain a continuous programme of improvements and new products. This goes beyond the function of receiving and utilising GNSS signals. For example, our CenterPointRTX service employs satellite communications to enable users to achieve precise positions without a terrestrial GNSS network or reference station.

Other positioning technologies are used to complement GNSS. In mobile mapping systems, inertial measurement units and wheel sensors help refine GNSS-measured positions. The results are georeferenced datasets from LiDAR and imaging sensors that can produce detailed 3D models over large areas and corridors. Our newest GNSS rover, R10 can be integrated with our V10 imaging rover to provide survey-grade georeferencing for panoramic images captured onsite.

How will the regional navigations systems being prepared by India and Japan with their own constellations actually help the market?

The larger cities in India and Japan will benefit from the IRNSS and QZSS systems. With just a single QZSS satellite, it is possible to see improvements from Japan down to Australia, and future launches will produce incremental benefits. However, on the hardware side, things are more complex. Given that QZSS signals are compatible with GPS, the satellites can be handled in most GNSS receivers, including our own R10. But we are monitoring the developments for IRNSS to understand the impact of that system.

How do you see the GNSS market evolving over the years with new and new satellites going up in space or even newer and newer uses being discovered for this technology?

Because GNSS is a core technology for Trimble, we keep a close eye on any new developments and opportunities. We are positioned to extend our core technologies to the new markets. In some cases, this involves developing new solutions to present to existing customers and applications. In others, we can adapt an existing solution to enter new markets. We learn from what we are good at and leverage our knowledge into newer arenas. For example, a number of applications want to use GNSS to operate at the centimeter level. But for many more applications, it is easily adequate to work at precisions of 10 cm up to a few metres. Using this understanding coupled with the domain knowledge of the users’ workflows and deliverables, we can develop solutions that provide exceptional value.