How Navsys Leverages Military Expertise for Business
The financial landscape is changing in a number of ways for a lot of GNSS businesses due to the U.S. government sequester and to a larger extent due to the U.S. reduction in military spending. The larger multinationals and prime contractors may have achieved pretty well diversified scope for their operations, and most have existing commercial products or operations where they can pump up resources and investment to improve their commercial market and product positioning. But a number of small businesses have discovered that their military and government clients of the past no longer have the same level of funding available for key projects. So their search is on for commercial opportunities, and the transition to a commercial business model may present a significant change in the way they operate.
Navsys Corporation in Colorado Springs is located just outside the gates of the U.S. Air Force Academy, so it’s not unusual that its customer base reflects a close association with the U.S. military and its prime contractors.
When someone in the military had a challenging GNSS or related technology problem in the past, it was often Navsys who was able to offer an innovative solution, through a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) proposal — and the company was actually awarded nine SBIR Phase II contracts over the last five years. Phase II SBIR contracts are designed to transition mil technology into commercial products either via government organizations or commercial outfits. Often in the past, prime contractors responding to a larger mil-spec requirement would also roll Navsys into their response when part of the requirement involved a GNSS navigation or related solution. So since 1989, the development of GNSS technology and products, and the publication of papers describing those technologies and products, have been pretty continuous at NAVSYS:
- Extended wide area differential GPS
- WAAS bent-pipe signal generator (SIGGEN)
- GPS/inertial video registration
- Digital beam-steering GPS receiver
- JLOC Jammer Detection and Location system
- Indoor location
- GPS phased sensor array
- Software-defined receiver
JLOC has been a long-term active government project for more than 10 years. SIGGEN technology has been part of Japan’s MSAS system for more than 10 years, and is an example of a successful product that has transitioned from government research into the commercial sector. And, of course, the first GPS-enabled cell phone, developed by Navsys Corporation, is now on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Time and Navigation exhibition in Washington, D.C. Developed for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Emergency Vehicle Location System Mayday platform in 1995, this important step in GPS history paved the way for positioning to become an integral component of today’s communications technology.
The complement of professionals on staff at Navsys has changed throughout the years, driven largely by how many projects were contracted at any one time, but the group has always had a very high standard of qualifications and experience and has inevitably exhibited a large degree of flexibility and creativity. Nowadays, moving to better align with commercial opportunities, Navsys helps companies solve challenging problems relating to GNSS, inertial, and simulation/testing. Cultivating business-to-business partnerships allows the company’s technical expertise to compliment and strengthen end-user products or applications. So companies are able to use Navsys as a technical resource for product development at a lower cost than developing their own in-house navigation solutions. And many of the technologies and core capabilities that they turn to stem from prior research and development into government and military applications. As projects mature, they transition into industry-leading products and services. Navsys’ industry partners and customers then go on to customize these capabilities into commercial applications in the marketplace.
One of the key technology/products that Navsys is pursuing includes InterNav modular GPS/inertial embedded software. It provides a real-time tightly coupled GPS/inertial solution that can be precisely aligned with additional sensors, including digital video products and laser rangefinders.
InterNav software may be embedded into OEM applications including commercial-off-the-shelf GPS/INS systems, unmanned platform navigation and stabilization systems, and remote sensing geo-registration. The above graphic shows how InterNav provides highly accurate geo-registration for FLIR’s Star SAFIRE electro-optic imaging system.
With other key customers such as KVH also using InterNav in some of its integrated inertial products, Navsys appears to be well on its way to penetrating a market segment that has previously been a space occupied by companies such as Applanix, Teledyne, and iMAR.
Another area where Navsys has had some success is GNSS simulation and test. The GNSS Signal Architect product suite includes Simulation and Toolbox software and test-set hardware.
Simulations of GPS or GLONASS are created based on static or dynamic scenarios. Users specify a complete set of simulation parameters, including receiver/satellite profiles and delay/noise error modeling. Playing back the simulation as an RF signal provides accurate and repeatable signals for GNSS receiver testing.
Toolbox includes a number of GNSS MATLAB utilities, including geographical, satellite geometry and receiver design/analysis tools. Test set is made up of a signal control unit computer and a software-defined radio and includes a wideband transceiver daughterboard.
Navsys has in the past provided extremely accurate GPS scenario generation software for end-user GPS simulator products, and the SatGen GNSS signal generator has also been released by Racelogic using Navsys Signal Architect Signal Simulation software.
Other technology/products currently in the works include Precision Geo-Registration and Remote Sensing, Geo-Referenced Imagery, Video-Aided Inertial Navigation and GNSS/Inertial Simulation.
- GPS/inertial InterNav technology has been used to develop Precision Geo-Registration and Remote Sensing, which extracts precise coordinates from video imagery without requiring any known data points. The key technology advantage is a precision GPS/inertial alignment technique that enables accurate camera alignment and aiming (<1 mrad attitude) using only low‐grade inertial sensors.
- Video-Aided Inertial Navigation uses an algorithm update technique that leverages image aiding from tracking ground points to further refine alignment accuracy. When combined with the GPS/inertial alignment algorithm, significantly improved alignment accuracy can be achieved over current GPS/inertial integration approaches.
So, as defense spending continues to contract, Navsys and other similar companies with an existing “treasure chest” of technology created for previous military programs are successfully adapting. Not only are skillfully modified, repackaged or even further advanced technologies and products being brought to the commercial marketplace, but their approach to business development, marketing and sales is beginning to take on the face of commercial operations. Business plans, carefully chosen projects and internal investment are beginning to replace responses to Commerce Business Daily (CBD) and Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps) as a way to conduct business. It’s a brave new commercial world out there and Navsys amongst others is ready, prepared and able to adapt and succeed.