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Advanced High-Precision GPS Navigation System for Industrial Use

In the realm of cutting-edge technology, we at MD Optical Design are adept at developing complex systems that seamlessly merge hardware with embedded software, creating robust and versatile solutions. This narrative unfolds the journey of one such intricate project - a high-precision GPS navigation system tailored for industrial applications. It's a testament to our technological prowess, flexibility, and determination to meet our clients' distinct needs, however challenging they may be. Dive in to discover how we navigated through various obstacles to build a system that effectively redefines accuracy and efficiency.

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Journey to Precision: Crafting a High-Accuracy Navigation System

Our company, despite its small size, is no stranger to big, technical challenges. This tale is about one such endeavor - an intricate dance of software and hardware, tirelessly orchestrated to develop a high-precision, real-time navigation system for industrial use. The end product was not just a machine or a software but a harmonious blend of the two, capable of determining geographical coordinates and orientation with an impressive accuracy of 2-3 cm.

Phase 1: Scouting the Terrain

The journey began with a seemingly straightforward task: install GPS navigational equipment on multiple vehicles or 'rovers', guiding them along a predefined route with point-to-point navigation. The path was charted by GPS-defined points, and at each stop, the rover would perform a set of actions.

GPS system first prototype testing at the parking lot. Cardboard box protects electronics from 110F heat
Testing our very first prototype

The relentless Arizona heat tested us, with temperatures hitting 110°F. We shielded our electronics under an improvised cardboard cover.

The challenge was in the details: the GPS accuracy had to be within 2-3 cm. Any standard, budget-friendly GPS module would not do. We needed RTK, or Real-Time Kinematics - a GPS receiver that takes in normal signals from the Global Navigation Satellite Systems, along with a correction stream to achieve an unprecedented positional accuracy.

The chase for the right equipment led us down the rabbit hole of the GPS market, where we finally settled on a specific set of hardware modules. These included a stationary base station that transmitted GPS corrections over a 433MHz radio channel and could function independently without an internet connection.

After cobbling together the hardware modules, the first prototype was ready. A simple software was developed to collect data, and the rig was mounted on a rolling cart that moved along a path we charted. The Arizona summer, with temperatures soaring to 110ºF, provided a tough testing environment.

Data from the tests presented a promising start. Spikes in response at stops, owing to slight rolling back due to overshooting, reassured us of an instant response with high precision. As for the task of determining orientation, our system outperformed electronic compasses, although the data required some tweaks when the angle of rotation transitioned from 360 to 0.

Phase 2: Navigating the Bumps

The second phase was an exercise in resilience. We developed a background service for processing and transmitting GPS data, along with a feature for storing and synchronizing the database. This, however, was not without its fair share of unexpected issues.

From inexplicable incompatibilities between USB hubs and GPS equipment to setting up a proper power supply for the GPS modules and radio transmitters, the process was riddled with hitches. One such hiccup was realizing that the RTK correction signal from the base station was lost after a few hundred feet.

Our solution? Swapping to an NTRIP-based system. The move to NTRIP (Networked Transport of RTCM via Internet Protocol) proved fruitful, and despite some initial obstacles, the system started working flawlessly.

Phase 3: Fine-tuning the Interface

The third phase was all about the user interface (UI). Initially, it was supposed to be a simple affair: a map, a set of points, and a cursor. However, upon testing, it became clear that more functionality was needed.

The project manager interface was added for tasks and viewing summaries. A file handler was written to accept tables with coordinates and additional characteristics of points, such as color and shape. The UI also needed to convert coordinates from one system to another.

One of the significant developments in this phase was adjusting the drop point relative to the GPS receiver for precise equipment positioning. This would prove vital for displaying the cursor on the main map. Another enhancement was using satellite images as the map's background, preloaded while creating a project.

After much refinement and successfully testing a map with 100,000 points, the system was ready. The next step was receiving RTK correction signals directly from satellites, eliminating the need for internet coverage.

The Final Product

Despite a journey punctuated with twists and turns, we made it. The final system featured centimeter range positioning and high accuracy heading computation, supporting NMEA and UBX protocols for transmitting GPS coordinates, and receiving RTK corrections in multiple ways.

The software GUI offered real-time map views, could load a file with virtually unlimited GPS points, and had a robust project accounting management system.

The project was a testament to our perseverance and innovation. The small size of our company did not limit our capabilities. Rather, it empowered us to take on challenges head-on and come up with pioneering solutions for high-precision industrial navigation.

Hardware Specifications:

  • High-precision GPS navigation with accuracy within 2-3 cm range.
  • Utilizes advanced microprocessors to process received GPS information.
  • Supports data transmission via USB-based connection, WiFi, and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy).
  • Supports NMEA and UBX protocols for transmitting GPS coordinates.
  • Capable of receiving RTK corrections from the base station or using NTRIP services, or by utilizing RTK signal from satellites.
  • System scalability to support multiple GPS receivers (rovers) simultaneously.

Software Specifications:

Interactive map can support 100,000 predefined points
Interactive map

Interactive map can support 100,000 predefined points

  • Support for NMEA and UBX protocols for GPS coordinate transmission.
  • Real-time graphical user interface (GUI) showing the map, route, and rover's current position and heading.
  • Ability to load tasks that include virtually unlimited numbers of GPS-defined points.
  • Automatic or manual marking of processed points during task execution.
  • Robust project management interface for task creation, editing, and summary review.
  • File handler for importing tables of GPS coordinates and other point characteristics.
  • Tools for precise equipment positioning adjustment relative to the GPS receiver.
  • Coordinate conversion from one system to another.
  • Local caching of satellite map images for offline use.
  • Account management system for different users or tasks.
  • Compatibility with various satellite map imaging services.
  • Efficient handling and display of up to 100,000 points on a map.
  • This system combines the power of cutting-edge hardware and software to provide highly accurate, reliable, and user-friendly navigation solutions for industrial applications.

If our high-precision navigation system resonates with your needs or you're looking for a bespoke solution tailored to your unique specifications, we're here to help! Our team has proven expertise in developing and implementing complex hardware and software solutions, capable of meeting the most demanding requirements. We believe in constant innovation, collaboration, and the power of technology to overcome challenges. We would be delighted to explore how we can assist you in achieving your goals. Don't hesitate to reach out to us. Let's drive the future together!