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Government funds sat-nav integration project

De Montfort University and a Nottingham company have got £113,000 of funding to build a navigation device able to work with GPS, Galileo and all rival satellite systems
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Researchers at De Montfort University in Leicester have secured £113,000 in funding to develop a navigation device that can gather information from a variety of satellite systems.

The sat-nav device will be able to communicate with the American Global Positioning System (GPS), Europe's Galileo system and other global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), De Montfort claimed on Thursday.

The funding is coming from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) and the East Midlands Development Agency (EMDA). The De Montfort team is working alongside a company called Nottingham Scientific in the venture.

"The East Midlands has a strong portfolio of organisations closely related to GNSS and telematics," said EMDA's innovation and international director, David Wallace, on Thursday. "EMDA is pleased to support [De Montfort] in taking forward this project, which is another great example of how we are investing in the expertise and experience within the region to build systems and applications that will boost markets in the future."

The device will use software-based algorithms to retune itself to whichever GNSS system it can use best — a concept known as "software-defined radio" (SDR). By way of contrast, most sat-nav systems communicate with just one GNSS satellite constellation.

In standard sat-nav devices, for example those using GPS, the data received from the satellites is processed through a chipset that then relays the data through a protocol called NMEA and into the sat-nav software. According to Eric Goodyer, the project manager at De Montfort who secured the governmental funding, the new device — currently called "Razor" — will be much more precise.

"The main difference is that you'll get, at satellite level, the raw data," Goodyer told ZDNet.co.uk on Thursday. "Most use the NMEA output provided by chips. If you throw that stuff away and go straight to the raw signal provided by the satellite, you get a much higher precision. All we're doing is cutting out the middleman and accessing the raw data directly."

Goodyer said the Razor project would run over two years, at the end of which the parties hope to have a single-chip product. However, he said it was likely that a two-chip product would be available within six months, incorporating an analogue transceiver and a separate digital processor. De Montfort is providing the hardware and Nottingham Scientific the software.

"The radio receiver end will initially be proprietary, but we will then be implementing the SDR software in an embedded microprocessor. We plan to integrate more and more until it is all [produced] in-house," said Goodyer.

Supported GNSS systems should include GPS — the only constellation in this list that is currently in a state of completion — Galileo, China's Beidou/Compass, Russia's Glonass, India's Gagan and Japan's MSAS.

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