As a vital enabler of innovation across a range of industries, GNSS value-added services have become a backbone of the global economy. The market continues to grow rapidly, with a forecasted CAGR of 9.52% between 2023 and 2028. Among the factors driving this growth are the increasing demand for autonomous vehicles and rising use among operators in industries like mining, construction, and precision agriculture. In this article, we’ll explore some of the trends shaping the future of advanced positioning and autonomous navigation.
The rise of fully autonomous navigation
The transition to widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles requires overcoming complex regulatory challenges and securing investment for technological innovation. For example, the early adoption of robotic taxi services has already launched in select markets, but large-scale commercialisation remains some way off. We may see the first applications of Level 4 highway pilots allowing for autonomous hub-to-hub transportation as early as 2024, but their success will depend heavily on regulatory and investor support.
Another emerging trend in autonomous navigation that’s heavily dependent on GNSS-based services is beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drones. These drones can operate over longer distances, including in areas that aren’t easily accessible to people or traditional vehicles. Use cases include large-scale agricultural monitoring and long-range surveying. For example, innovations like Spirent’s GNSS Foresight Service are vital in achieving compliance and safety in what has become a highly regulated sector. For example, French startup Automatika offers a software stack combining environmental perception and simulated reality to facilitate autonomous navigation of robots in dynamic environments like shopping centres.
Breakthroughs in indoor positioning
Indoor positioning systems (IPS) can currently achieve an accuracy of two centimetres – around the same as RTK-enabled GNSS receivers used outdoors. Enabling technologies include wireless access points, 5G networking, and 3D environment mapping in cases where GPS and other satellite services either lack precision or aren’t available at all. For example, IPS can be used for helping staff navigate large indoor environments, such as hospitals, factories, educational campuses and airports.
High-definition mapping is another key enabler of advanced indoor positioning. These maps not only provide navigation, but also combine remote sensing technology, such as LiDAR and RADAR. Seamless outdoor to indoor wayfinding systems can provide turn-by-turn navigation, facilitate location-based actions, and enable real-time monitoring and security in large multi-storey buildings. For instance, Hidonix, an Italian tech startup and an industry leader in spatial intelligence, uses the interaction between the geomagnetic fields produced by physical structures and smartphone sensors to provide exceptional indoor accuracy.
LEO satellites in orbital innovation
The incorporation of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites in GNSS systems marks a significant trend that promises enhancements to localisations. Companies like SpaceX, Starlink, and Blue Origin are already launching hundreds or even thousands of satellites into LEO, with the primary aim being to provide global broadband coverage. LEO constellations used to distribute PPP corrections can help to speed up the convergence time. However, they can also serve as navigation satellites offering better geometry than GPS and similar services. Furthermore, using satellites at an altitude of 2,000 kilometres or less – around a tenth of the distance of GPS satellites – means a less inhospitable radiation environment and stronger signals at the user end. This, in turn significantly reduces issues like path loss, while also making signals more resilient to interference. One startup leveraging recent advances in LEO satellites is Xona Space Systems, which uses LEO constellations to provide position, navigation, and timing (PNT) services with up to 10 times better accuracy than GNSS.
In precision agriculture, for example, LEO satellites can significantly improve GNSS navigation allowing farmers to use it for field mapping, soil sampling, and crop scouting. This enhanced positioning in turn leads to better management of resources like water and fertilisers, resulting in increased crop yields and a reduced impact on the environment.
The future of domain awareness systems
Domain awareness systems (DAS) provide real-time information to monitor the movement of vehicles, such as ships and aircraft, by integrating data from sources like RADAR and LIDAR systems and surveillance cameras. For example, US-based startup Seasats manufactures autonomous surface vehicles (ASV) designed for use in scientific research and commercial surveying. Equipped with maritime domain awareness (MDA) and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, they use GNSS for navigation anywhere in the world.
The integration of DAS will also prove pivotal in smart city initiatives, where it can improve traffic flow, enhance public safety, and optimise emergency response operations. The trend from ground-based surveillance is now shifting more towards space-based systems due to more affordable access to LEO and geosynchronous satellite services. With the integration of machine learning, the field is steadily transitioning towards more sophisticated and efficient systems that are more capable of enhancing situational awareness capabilities and complex security challenges.
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