July 21, 2003
GPS and Inertial Systems Technology: A Winning Combination from Trimble
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor

Welcome to GISWeekly! Recently Trimble acquired Applanix, provider of inertial systems technology, to add positioning accuracy to their line of GPS products. The combination of GPS with INS will improve the performance level for those customers engaged in surveying, construction, forestry and other key industries. See our interview with Bryn Fosburgh, vice president and general manager of Trimble's Geomatics and Engineering Division, for more details.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Alliances/Acquisitions, Announcements, Awards, Appointments, New Products, Featured Downloads, Around the Web, and Calendar.

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Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

GPS and Inertial Systems Technology: A Winning Combination from Trimble

Interview with Bryn Fosburgh

Bryn Fosburgh
If you have ever been reliant on a GPS for correct mileage or location and have had data transmission problems because of tall buildings or tree canopy, then the acquisition of Applanix by Trimble, provider of core GPS positioning technology, will definitely be of interest to you.

GISWeekly spoke with Bryn Fosburgh, vice president and general manager of Trimble's Geomatics and Engineering Division about the company's recent acquisition of Applanix, which will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary. Fosburgh has been with Trimble since 1994.

Applanix, a provider of inertial systems technology (INS), coupled with Trimble's core GPS technology, promises greater position accuracy in situations where trees, topography or tall buildings obstruct satellite transmission. Inertial sensors don't have dependencies like GPS, are self-contained and rely on gyros and accelerometers inside the system to providing positioning information. The combination of GPS with INS will improve the performance level for those customers engaged in surveying, construction, forestry and other key industries.

Tell me how the Geomatics and Engineering Division is set up and how Applanix fits into the Trimble framework.

BF: Trimble's Geomatics and Engineering (G&E) Division consists of four distinct business areas: surveying, which concentrates on land and marine applications; construction, which concentrates on the construction market for 2D and 3D machine control applications; infrastructure, which addresses GPS reference stations and software; and emerging technologies, a group that explores innovative technologies and techniques for future applications. For example, in this area we look at companies like Applanix to see how their technology can add value and be potentially incorporated into the mainstream business of our division, which is primarily surveying and construction.

What were the qualities of Applanix that led you to want to make this acquisition?

Applanix complements Trimble's core positioning technologies, which include: lasers which help you determine an elevation of a plane or a point; GPS which gives you a 3D position and then we have optical total stations which are - when you are driving down the road and see a surveyor looking through an eye piece that's a total station; we have advanced technology called robotic total stations that allow the user to manipulate that total station without looking through the eyepiece. When you see someone looking through the eyepiece there's always someone on the other end with a pole and prism. Robotic technologies enable remote control from the range pole, and it doesn't need someone looking
through the eyepiece and the total station is controlled remotely from the pole. Also from the G&E Division, we offer field and office application software that meets our market sector requirements and enable Trimble to provide a complete solution.

Applanix adds to the robustness of GPS technology. GPS signals cruise through the atmosphere at 20,000 kilometers or so, it works very well if you're in an open or semi- open area. If you go into what we call a hostile environment, say a tree canopy or in an urban canyon with tall buildings, then GPS can give you either degraded accuracy or you may not receive GPS signals at all. By adding inertial technology, GPS becomes a more robust positioning solution for a number of reasons. First, inertial data can be used to improve the detection and tracking of weak GPS signals (improve the signal to noise ratio). Second, inertial technology can be used to maintain GPS positioning, for a limited
time, without satellite availability. And third, inertial helps with faster reacquisition times by maintaining both the tracking loops and a much smaller reacquisition search space. GPS is also complementary to inertial technology, which has a tendency to drift after long periods of time. GPS can be used to re-calibrate inertial. Together they are a great combination.

Many of our survey and construction customers need positioning 24 hours a day at all locations. Applanix's inertial navigation technology enables us to get that 24-hour availability under any working conditions, so it's very important for us strategically. A person driving a bulldozer down the road needs that positioning when they go underneath an overpass. With GPS today, they may lose that satellite signal. The problem is that GPS uses line of sight technology and in some instances it doesn't always give the user 100 percent availability. Inertial navigation, now coupled with our GPS solutions, will give a more robust solution. And our goal is 100 percent position availability.

In addition, Applanix is a growing and profitable company on its own. It serves markets that Trimble doesn't really participate in-for example, the airborne mapping market. Applanix is very well known in the airborne market and will continue to work in that space. Other markets in which Applanix is very active include marine survey and road survey.

Those are the new market areas you'll be moving into as a result of this acquisition?

I don't believe Trimble will go into the airborne market but Applanix will continue to offer solutions in the airborne market. Other than selling GPS receivers, that's not really a marketplace that Trimble will participate in alone today. However, Trimble does participate in the marine market, and Applanix coupled with the Trimble solutions will give us an enhanced product offering for our customers in that area.

The acquisition allows us to look at applications in markets that have positioning or data collection as a key attribute of what they're doing. Since, with inertial, we're not inhibited by the line of sight for GPS it may become more viable for us to go into other markets. The acquisition is in its early stages so it would be difficult at this point to say we'll move into this or that market at this time.

Will you keep the Applanix staff on board or will there be a replacement?

The Applanix staff will remain on board and operate as a wholly owned subsidiary as well as a center of excellence for inertial technology. They are very excited about the acquisition. Applanix has been a customer of Trimble for many years. They bought GPS receivers from us so they saw early on, even before the acquisition, that they could merge the two technologies to provide the user with a more robust solution in difficult environments.

What we'll be able to do in the future is enhance our product offerings for survey, construction and agriculture. It will definitely enhance the division's current targeted markets.


KingsBridge Systems Inc., a Wireless Network Planning (WNP) solutions provider announced that it has formed an alliance partnership with Canada's leading geospatial data experts, DMTI Spatial. DMTI Spatial is a Markham-based company that develops web enabled spatial data and software products used to support corporate and institutional information and marketing systems.

Telespazio SpA, a Finmeccanica Company, one of the European players in space telecommunication and Earth Observation services, has become the major share holder of GAF AG, a move that brings together two entities devoted to develop a promising but demanding market. While GAF is a synonym for leading competence in Earth observation and integrated information technology and services, Telespazio is a European operator, an international reference in design, planning and management of space systems and in the development of satellite technology based services and solutions. Eurimage, a joint endeavour of Telespazio and
Astrium, may, together with Euromap, a wholly owned subsidiary of GAF, add further value to the field of data distribution. The necessary economic size to make an impact in a coalescing European and global market is even more represented by the parent group Finmeccanica.

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