GNSS is shaping Industry 4, from food manufacturing to AI

From supply chains to construction to agriculture, Global Navigation Satellite System technology is paving the way for industrial autonomy

Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) technology has revolutionised many industries and applications. Beyond mere convenience, GNSS has fundamentally transformed how manufacturers navigate, transport goods, cultivate crops, construct buildings and more.

With the democratisation of GNSS correction solutions set to bring about advancements in precision for a range of mission-critical applications, GNSS is poised to further establish itself as one of the pivotal drivers of Industry 4.0 and enable a new era of mass adoption, according to Remus Lai, Analyst at DAI Magister.

“While GNSS has ushered in an era of unparalleled connectivity and positioning capabilities, it is not impervious to the influence of timing and atmospheric interference,” he said. “We can categorise these disruptions into two groups: receiver-related and satellite-related errors.”


Receiver-related errors

Receiver-related errors result from atmospheric interference, multipath interference and radio frequency disruptions. These errors are caused by Earth’s atmospheric effects, signal reflections off objects and interference from other electronic devices respectively.


Satellite-related errors

Satellite-related errors stem from imperfections in satellite timekeeping, including clock drift and ephemeris errors. Clock inaccuracies and discrepancies in recorded satellite positions and velocities can lead to significant position calculation errors.


“Precision is paramount in GNSS as it underpins accurate positioning and timing, crucial for navigation, surveying and telecommunications,” said Lai. “In navigation, precision GNSS is vital for the safety and efficiency of autonomous vehicles and drones. Surveying benefits from precise maps and distance measurements.”

Furthermore, in telecommunications, it synchronises clocks in expansive networks, ensuring seamless data flow. Without precision, GNSS falls short of meeting accuracy needs in these critical domains and other applications.

“Hardware-based positioning correction technologies like Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) and Precise Point Positioning (PPP) offer solutions to GNSS limitations. RTK achieves centimetre-level accuracy by using a base station to send reference signals to the receiver, correcting GNSS positioning signals instantly. It calculates the positional discrepancy between the base station and the receiver, resulting in highly accurate positions.” 

However, it requires an extensive network of base stations, making it suitable primarily for developed areas. This also makes it cost-prohibitive for mass adoption.

“On the other hand, PPP achieves centimetre to decimetre-level accuracy without base stations by utilising precise satellite orbit and clock corrections from a global reference network. Corrections are received via satellite or the Internet, addressing common GNSS errors like clock and orbit errors, atmospheric delays, and multipath interference. PPP serves various applications, including surveying, mapping, agriculture, construction and mining.”


GNSS technology enables industrial autonomy

RTK technology is the top choice for critical industrial applications, thanks to its use of high- quality radio modems with low latency, interoperability and reliability, even in harsh environments. This ensures reliable reception of real-time correction signals from base stations, boosting success.

“Key drivers for RTK adoption in industrial autonomy include its hardware foundation with robust radio frequency (RF) and communication tech, providing highly accurate real-time positioning signals. The software layer supports machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, enabling machines to autonomously collaborate and coordinate.”

Integrating AI and robotics revolutionises high-risk industrial environments by reducing human involvement.

“This advancement introduces ‘mission-critical machine control’ (MCMC), wherein industrial applications execute exclusively via machines positioned with near-perfect precision,” says Lai. “AI and robotics can assist in optimising a multitude of tasks, ranging from tractors achieving maximum fertiliser coverage to excavators navigating construction sites with unmatched efficiency and safety. Together, these elements underscore the increasing importance of technologies like RTK in realising the future of industrial automation.”

The European Space Agency anticipates a bright outlook for the global GNSS market, forecasting a robust Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 9.2% over the coming decade. As businesses strive to reach the forefront of industrial autonomy, Lai sees that the demand for advanced GNSS technologies, encompassing correction solutions, is poised to surge in tandem and perhaps even outpace this growth trajectory.

The distinction between hardware and software is a misleading way to view GNSS correction as it overlooks an essential consideration for mass adoption, where the corrections are performed. 

“Instead, it’s more useful to categorise corrections as either external or within the receiver. ‘Outside the receiver’ involves sources that are outside the device that compute and transmit correction signals such as RTK or PPP technologies,” said Lai. “In this context, receivers encompass various devices, such as vehicles on the road or tractors in agricultural fields.”

Mass adoption in urban areas requires solutions that perform well despite challenges like interference and limited line of sight caused by buildings and infrastructure. Even with advanced GNSS correction technology, urban environments can still degrade signal quality.

“In industrial settings, solutions like RTK work effectively because they have a clear Line of Sight (LOS) between the base station and receivers, ensuring uninterrupted signal delivery,” said Lai. “However, this approach may not be as successful in urban areas due to the presence of buildings and infrastructure. In contrast, ‘within the receiver’ solutions are better suited for urban environments.”

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