If there’s one technology that’s instrumental in determining an autonomous machine’s success, it’s positioning. Without it, self-driving tractors fail to navigate the rows, picking robots harvest unripe fruits and autonomous sprayers waste precious resources on the wrong areas of the field. One company that understands this implicitly is Hexagon | NovAtel, a production-quality GNSS and positioning provider.
NovAtel provides precise positioning to many industries across land, sea and air, which has enabled the company to develop robust and versatile products with an impressive range of applications. With over two decades in the agriculture industry working with OEMs, this expertise supports developers in taking robots and autonomous machines from the prototype and research and development stages and equips them with the technology they need to successfully get to market and achieve volume production.
“We see ourselves as an ideal partner for agtech startups and OEMs because we have very mature products with dedicated agriculture staff in support, engineering, marketing, sales, and leadership,” says James Szabo, Hexagon’s Autonomy & Positioning division senior agriculture autonomy product manager. “Agriculture is a key industry for NovAtel products, which means we can put a lot of attention into delivering exactly what our customers need.”
This is particularly important when a robot goes from being merely an academic project to reaching the production stage. While some companies might utilize a basic GNSS receiver with little customization and no agriculture-focused features, Hexagon works directly with the customer to ensure the machines have NovAtel solutions that meet their unique needs.
“When we work with someone, we’ll actually send our engineers and our sales team to their site,” Szabo says. “We’ll sit down with them and talk about the problems that they want to solve because we're not just making GNSS receivers. We're also building entire positioning solutions tailored to our customers' needs.”
This process can be transformative. Sometimes, NovAtel’s expertise helps solve problems the customer didn’t even know they had or didn't know could be solved by GNSS.
“The devil is in the details here, but we often find that through the R&D process, our customers solve one problem, then find another problem and solution, and another problem and a solution for that, too,” Szabo says. “Suddenly, they've got lots of individual pieces of technology stacked on top of each other, and while it works, we are often able to provide a lot of value by solving multiple problems with one piece of technology.”
“So, we look at their entire ecosystem with them and offer something that will offer a better solution, reducing their costs and, also very importantly, allowing them to meet certain compliance and regulations standards,” Szabo continues. “Positioning systems are integral to advancing robotics in agriculture and we want to see our customers succeed. By working together, our customers get a solution that supports their goals and a team of positioning experts to help work through integration and any challenges.”
The compliance and regulation piece is essential. Highly automated agricultural machines and tractors must follow a standard called ISO 18497, which ensures an appropriate level of safety when the machines are designed and operated. NovAtel’s GNSS technologies allow robotics developers to meet the requirements of this standard.
“Beyond just having a GPS position, we have a lot of extra functionality in our solutions to help our autonomy partners,” Szabo says. “One of those is having the inertial measurement unit (IMU) integrated, which detects whether the machine is pitching, rolling or rotating and we make that data available to the machine.”
“We also have a proprietary technology called SPAN, which ensures that if you lose your GPS or GNSS signal, you have up to 10 seconds of the machine still being able to operate reasonably,” he continues. “That's really good for the machine to be able to operate along tree lines, under trees, under power lines and still maintain a global position. With some other solutions, as soon as you lose that view of the satellites, that's it. Game over, the machine stops and needs human intervention, raising frustration and reducing the customers experience”
Another benefit of NovAtel’s solutions is precision timing protocol (PTP), which is included with all Ethernet-enabled NovAtel products. This helps partners bring all their machine’s sensors together with a common time stamp. Having synchronized clocks means there’s a dependable and uninterrupted connection between multiple connectivity points, allowing the robot to function at its best.
The details of the technology, however, are just the beginning. NovAtel also helps its customers quickly integrate these technologies into their machines by giving them the tools they need to allow the various robotic operating systems to work seamlessly with the positioning solution. Taken together, NovAtel’s holistic focus on providing the exact right solution has powerful benefits for the company’s customers and the industry overall.
“We focus on the ease of integration, making sure everything works and that they've got the support they need,” Szabo says. “For the end customer, all these extra functionalities mean that they've got a better return on their investment.”
“It's also worth mentioning that all of these extra features and standards also make it easier for robotics companies to get their design approved for safety and legislation purposes, and it also makes that easier for the farmer to adopt that technology,” Szabo continues. “Agricultural robotics are still in the phase where the legislation hasn’t always caught up to the technology, so having the assurance of all these certifications and processes built into the design of these machines helps with the legislation, helps with the insurance and helps with the adoption of the products in the market.”
To learn more about complete positioning solutions from NovAtel and what they can do for you, visit novatel.com
Hexagon is the global leader in digital reality solutions, combining sensor, software and autonomous technologies. We are putting data to work to boost efficiency, productivity, quality and safety across industrial, manufacturing, infrastructure, public sector, and mobility applications.
Our technologies are shaping production and people-related ecosystems to become increasingly connected and autonomous – ensuring a scalable, sustainable future.
Hexagon's Autonomy & Positioning division is a global technology leader, pioneering end-to-end solutions for assured positioning for land, sea, and air. Its solutions power intelligent positioning ecosystems in vital industries and safety-of-life applications, enabling the advancement of the Autonomous X (cars, UAVs, industrial vehicles, trains, vessels, and more). The division includes leading brands NovAtel, Veripos, and AutonomouStuff.