Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ newsletters and blogs. She writes on a number of topics, including but not limited to geospatial, architecture, engineering and construction. As many technologies evolve and occasionally merge, Susan finds herself uniquely situated to be able to cover diverse topics with facility. « Less
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »
Trimble Catalyst Adds Support for GLONASS
June 28th, 2018 by Susan Smith
Recently, Trimble announced that its Trimble® Catalyst™ software-defined Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver for Android phones and tablets has been updated to support GLONASS.
The advantage of access to the GLONASS constellation is that it increases the number of GNSS satellites visible when working in the field. As a result, it improves the ability to maintain lock on enough satellites to keep working when sky visibility is limited or obstructed, such as under tree canopy and in urban high-rise environments. It also takes less time for users waiting for the receiver to achieve an accurate position; convergence time is faster and more reliable.
The Positioning-as-a-Service that Trimble Catalyst provides collects highly accurate location data with Trimble or third-party apps on Android smartphones and tablets. When combined with a small, lightweight, plug-and-play DA1 digital antenna and Catalyst subscription, the receiver provides on-demand GNSS positioning capabilities, and transforms consumer devices into centimeter-accurate mobile data collection systems.
Gareth Gibson, Business Development manager, Trimble Geospatial, spoke with GISCafe Voice about the addition of GLONASS to Trimble Catalyst.
Can you give real world examples of how adding GLONASS to Trimble Catalyst improves productivity?
Location-enabled workflows are only truly productive if the user’s points of interest can be mapped or re-located accurately. GNSS receivers can take time (minutes) to converge to a high-accuracy solution. The more time a field worker spends waiting on their technology, the less productive they are. The accuracy and reliability of GNSS is directly related to the quality and amount of information that the GNSS receiver has to work with. By adding GLONASS support to Catalyst, we greatly increase the amount of good data for the receiver. With more satellites available to the receiver overall, we reduce the relative effects of some satellites being hidden from view, and satellite multi-path error (timing errors introduced from signals bouncing off nearby objects, rather than taking a direct path from satellite to receiver). Typical examples include working near trees, buildings, and in the shadow of a hillside. These are common scenarios for most types of GNSS mapping activities. The updated receiver is tracking and using in some cases nearly twice as many satellites as the previous version of the Catalyst service app, which results in measurable improvement in availability of high-accuracy positions, faster start-up, and re-convergence.
What types of industries will take advantage of Trimble Catalyst with the update?
Catalyst appeals to a broad range of industries, especially those where high-end GNSS has been previously inaccessible due to cost or complexity. This update brings Catalyst closer in terms of performance to that of a traditional multi-constellation, multi-frequency receiver. Catalyst is serving a lot of traditional mapping and data collection markets already, e.g., utilities and infrastructure mapping, local government asset mapping, and natural/environmental resource management. Catalyst gives these types of organizations more flexibility to work the way they need to: these customers can take advantage of the scalability of Catalyst to turn on the service month-by-month, to pick and pay for the accuracy level that suits the specific project, and to increase or decrease the size of their Catalyst fleet as projects start and stop. Beyond traditional geospatial industries, Catalyst is making an impact in markets you wouldn’t normally associate with GIS and GPS mapping technology. These uses include site layout in parks and at events (concerts and festivals and sports events), landscaping, drone-based and aerial mapping, urban irrigation projects, and many others. In these ways, companies are finding that GNSS can now be used to simplify and transform the use of location information. Catalyst has made high-accuracy GNSS accessible by making it simple and affordable. The GLONASS update has value for both our traditional customer base and our new customers. The service is more robust in most conditions, but especially in those areas mentioned above – near trees and buildings. Catalyst multi-path performance and speed to converge and re-acquire positions is noticeably faster, which means more time can be spent doing the real work, because the GNSS receiver is behaving the way it needs to in more places, with less waiting.
Is the service only provided through an Android app, and if so, why?
Yes, the first release of this product is built for the Android platform. Catalyst takes the idea of a GNSS receiver – traditionally a physical electronic device – and turns that into software, running as an app, on your phone, so the service is fundamentally tied to the platform on which it is running. This technology began as a research project using Android as a platform, and once we had proven that the technology worked and understood the potential, it made sense for us to release on Android as a first step. It helps that Android by far is the largest mobile operating system in the world market (Global Marketshare held by Smartphone Operating Systems). But of course there are other popular mobile operating systems in the market – particularly in the enterprise market – and Trimble has seen interest in expanding Catalyst to support those platforms too.
How does Trimble Catalyst interface with other Trimble Geospatial products?
Trimble Catalyst delivers high-end positioning, as a service. It provides GNSS positions to any app running on the Android platform. Because the app is running in the background of the Android device, the interface to the rest of the Trimble Geospatial products and the applications developed by our partners is a software interface. The most basic interplay between Catalyst and other apps is to use Google Android’s built-in location service to override the user’s phone’s internal GPS receiver. In this way, Catalyst appears just as if it is the phone’s on-board GPS. Developers can also use the Trimble Catalyst software development kit (SDK) to integrate access to the service and ‘talk’ more directly to the Catalyst receiver. This allows richer meta-data to be recorded as well, and allows the app developer to have more control over the way the receiver behaves. Trimble’s own field apps for Android (e.g., Trimble TerraFlex and Trimble PenMap for Android) both provide in-built support for Trimble Catalyst using the SDK.
What are the terms of Positioning-as-a-service subscriptions?
Catalyst leverages the convergence of technology from multiple sources (the ubiquity of mobile internet, the state-of-the-art computing power present in everyday smartphones, the proliferation of location-based data, and the development of a powerful software-defined GNSS receiver) to enable low-cost, flexible, and incredibly simple access to high-accuracy positioning. Using Catalyst is easy. New users sign up by: purchasing a low cost (US $350) antenna, downloading the free Catalyst Service app, and purchasing a subscription to use the service at the accuracy level they want to use. The service is billed monthly, on a per-user basis. Users have a choice of four accuracy levels starting at US $40/month for meter-level accuracy, up to US $350/month for Precision (1-2 cm). Because Catalyst is billed monthly, users are able to cancel or change their accuracy as needed month-by-month. Catalyst supports individual users, or subscriptions can be purchased for teams of users of unlimited size. Subscriptions can be purchased and paid for month-by-month, or if customers prefer, there are also options for purchasing subscriptions in blocks of months for seasonal or longer projects. As long as a user has a Catalyst antenna, they can sign in and use their subscription on any compatible smartphone or tablet. Using the service is as simple as plugging the antenna into a phone (via a standard USB port on the bottom of the phone or tablet) and running a Catalyst-enabled app. Catalyst-enabled apps use the SDK to ‘talk’ directly to the receiver, or alternatively, any off-the-shelf app can use Catalyst by using Trimble’s Mobile Manager app to share positions through the phone’s operating system. Trimble GNSS corrections are bundled and delivered via the cloud, and using automated datum management technology (Trimble Corrections Hub) truly enables a ‘zero configuration’ user experience for GNSS correction settings. For users that need (or prefer) to use their own correction source, Catalyst can also be configured to use third-party corrections.
How often can users expect performance updates?
Catalyst is in active development and has a full roadmap of enhancements being worked on. The beauty of being built almost entirely in software is that deploying updates is painless due to the ease of sending out updates through Google’s app store environment. We can also closely monitor the market’s response to the product and adjust our roadmap accordingly to address specific user feedback and any issues we encounter. Catalyst also leverages a deep stack of Trimble technologies from across our business, which are also actively developing. As Trimble’s cloud services evolve and improve, some of those changes flow through to Catalyst too.
What types of performance updates are expected in the future?
It is an exciting time for GNSS technology generally, as the capabilities of smartphones, web-delivered services, and infrastructure are evolving at a rapid pace. This will continue to create opportunities for Catalyst to increase in its own capabilities and address new markets, geographies, and workflows. You can look at recent history to get a sense of the sorts of things that will happen. As new constellations and technologies have become available, Trimble has been at the leading edge of commercializing these things in our GNSS receivers and services. We will look to do the same thing with the Trimble Catalyst service. The most exciting thing is being able to leverage the incredible speed at which consumer smart devices are evolving. By utilizing the processing power of the smartphone’s CPU and the other technology available to us through these devices, we are expanding into a whole new era of positioning capabilities.
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