GPS is really good at finding where people are, typically with a margin of error of just a few meters. That's fine if you're using GPS for driving directions, but if you're, say, a drone operator, you might want to navigate the sky more precisely, as a few feet can mean the difference between flying between buildings and crashing into them. Created by Swift Navigation, the Piksi (pronounced "pixie") GPS receiver could give unmanned aerial vehicles a GPS signal accurate to an inch. The project has already received nearly six times its initial funding goal on Kickstarter.
Fergus Noble and Colin Beighley, the guys behind Swift Navigation, have experience in drones, specifically with work on wind turbines attached to flying kites. Knowing the precise location of a kite as it flies in circles is important, because the kite will fly autonomously for months and needs to self-correct back to a designated course in case anything sends it off-track. Knowing precisely where it is within inches is much better than being off by several feet. This was an especially acute need with some small prototypes flying in circles not much bigger than regular GPS margin of error.
Unfortunately, the available technology to track such kites is super expensive. For example, the trade publication GPS World names the Sokkia GRX2 as a low-cost possibility, and it costs $14,500. That might be low cost for the Pentagon or Exxon Mobil, but for most everyone else it's a little pricey. Faced with that, Noble and Beighley set out to create their own version.
The Piksi is a Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS receiver, best explained in reverse. The receiver part means it gets signals from satellites in Earth's orbit. These satellites transmit a signal of their own location in orbit, with a time signature, down to Earth. A receiver uses the signals from four or more satellites to pinpoint a spot on Earth. Wherever the signals overlap on Earth, that's where the receiver is, and this makes the GPS system. However, the size of the waves transmitting the signal mean that the spot of overlap is several feet.
RTK works from a disparity in the length of the code transmitted and the length of the wave carrying the signal. The signal itself travels in a wave, with the location information coded in segments 985 feet long. The waves making up that code are much smaller than the whole code, with each wave about 7.5 inches from peak to peak.
Piksi uses this information to create a more precise measurement. In communication with another RTK receiver for reference, the RTK GPS system, like one in use on a drone, compares the difference in number of wavelengths between the reference point and the system itself. Since the reference point is a known location, this cross-checking of wavelengths, combined with clever algorithms, lets the RTK receiver pin the location down to within inches.
To make this clever system available at just $900, the Piksi uses open-source software and a two-receiver check system. Cheaper, commercially available processors also help bring costs down. Noble also tells Popular Science that another reason for high competitor costs is simply "that the market can bear it." With the billion-dollar budgets of oil companies and military clients, prices in the thousands of dollars are hardly notable.
For real-world applications, imagine a crop-dusting robot that flies low and precisely over every single row of corn, or a small drone that carries packages from rooftop to rooftop with the precision of a carrier pigeon.
Watch their pitch below:
"... For real-world applications, imagine a crop-dusting robot that flies low and precisely over every single row of corn, or a small drone that carries packages from rooftop to rooftop with the precision of a carrier pigeon.... "
Just paint that drone with rubber for enhance stealth, plus the fact they are small and fly low and the Drug Lords will be sending a ka-zillion illegal shipments.
Or terrorist will be sending slow moving stealth bombers.
Besides the suggested evil use situation I propose above, this technology seems AWESOME for all the good reasons that will come too! WELL DONE!
I was really impressed with the products capabilities but at $900 its still out of reach for many amateurs and hobbyists. You can get a Skylab Uart Serial Gps Module For Arduino for $25 including shipping. There are definitely allot of things you can do with the added precision but in most cases you will have access to the areas where your drones or robots will be and the precision could easily be reintroduced along with allot of other nifty functionality by using a Pixy vision sensor (not related to piksi gps system)
@Starz a couple probs with your post. Firstly by itself the piksi is not very different from all the other gps's around. You need a second base station one to get the added precision and the base station needs to be close for two reasons, for the two to be in communications range with each other and they need to receive the same atmospheric distortions so they can be properly canceled out.
Secondly your typical GPS can already be used for drug applications or stealth bomber applications. GPS exports have itar restrictions for receivers that "output navigation solutions if the velocity is greater than 1,000 kts and the altitude is greater than 60,000 ft. Notice this is an "and" condition, you have to be going too fast AND too high." - piksi q&a
So about the only things you can't do with this or a typical gps unit are satellites and rockets.
But don't worry if you're building a cubesat in the US the piksi people can help you get one without the limitations.
900 Dollars is still very expensive for most. The new Galileo navigation system now being put into orbit will give free services below 1 meter accuracy. It should by itself make a huge difference in many fields. At least without having to buy expensive extra's. The payed Galileo service will go below 4 inches. Perhaps that will be affordable and easy to use as well compared to this. But the more options the better.
I don't believe you. The DoD, officially, promises a 15 feet accuracy right now for their cruise missiles. Who to believe in the case of Syria? PopSci or the DoD?
50 Hz, interesting, we did a POC back in 2010 and were able to show movements in as little as 6", sub 1 mph movements and elevation changes as the person walked @ 1Hz with a $20 cots gps chip. Think I might have to go back into the "toy" business.