Dual-frequency PPK solutions with RTKLIB and the u-blox F9P

With previous generations of u-blox receivers there has been a lower priced option available without an internal RTK engine, such as the popular M8T in the generation 8 modules. This does not appear to be the case with the new dual-frequency generation 9 modules, as the F9T, without internal RTK solution, is currently priced higher than the F9P with internal solution.

As the u-blox internal RTK solution in the F9P appears to be very robust, there is probably no good reason to ever use RTKLIB for real-time solutions with the F9P. However, it often still makes sense to use RTKLIB to post-process raw data previously collected by the F9P since the F9P is not capable of post-processing solutions.

Post-processed (PPK) solutions have several advantages over real-time solutions. The rover hardware is simpler, less expensive, lighter, and lower power since post-processing does not require a real-time data link between base and rover. Post-processed solutions also tend to be more robust than real-time solutions, both because they are not subject to data dropouts in the base data link and because they allow for solution techniques that take advantage of both past and future observations, not just past observations. When the solution is not required in real-time, it often makes more sense to collect the data first and then process it later.

Collecting data and processing RTK solutions for the dual-frquency F9P with RTKLIB is not very different for doing this for the single-frequency u-blox M8T, and if you are already familiar with doing that, you will probably not have much trouble adapting to the F9P. However, since it’s been a long time since I did a post on this subject, I thought it would be worth going over again with some updated tips for the new receiver.

Step 1: Configuring the receiver:

To process an RTKLIB solution, we will need raw observation messages from both rover and base receivers and navigation data messages from one of the receivers. The receivers do not output these messages by default so we will need to configure them to do this. With the u-blox M8T it was possible to do this directly with RTKLIB using a command file but this is not an option with the F9P as RTKLIB does not currently support the new F9P configuration messages.

Instead we will download the u-blox u-center app and use this to configure the receivers, then save the results to the on-board flash. There are detailed instructions on how to do this in the F9P documentation available on the u-blox website but here’s a quick summary of the process.

  1. Plug the receiver into a Windows PC using a USB cable if the board supports USB or with an FTDI serial/USB converter if the receiver only has a UART port.
  2. Start the “u-center” app and connect to the receiver with the “Connection” command on the “Receiver” tab. If it is a USB connection, baud rate won’t matter, but if it is a UART->USB connection through FTDI, then you will have to set the correct baud rate from the “Receiver” tab. If all is well, you should see the green connection indicator flashing at the bottom of the screen
  3. From the “View” tab, open the “Messages”, Configure”, “Gen 9 Configure”, and “Packet Console” windows
  4. If using the UART port, click on “PRT (Ports)” from the “Configure” window, set the Target to “1-UART1” and “Baudrate” to the desired baud rate, and click on “Send”. I typically set this to 115200 baud. You will then need to change the baud rate in u-center to the new baud rate. If you are using the USB port directly, you can skip this step.
  5. From the “Configure” window, click on “RATE”, and set “Measurement Period” to the desired time between observation samples, then click on “Send”. I typically set this to 200 ms which gives a 5 Hz sample rate.
  6. From the “Gen 9 Configure” window, select “GNSS Configuration”, enable the desired constellations and signals, select “RAM” and “Flash” under “Layer Selection”, then click on “Send Configuration”. The F9P supports GPS L1C/A and L2C, Glonass L1 and L2, Galileo E1 and E5b, BediDou B1 and B2, and QZSS L1C/A.
  7. From the “Messages” window, right click on “NMEA” and then click on “Disable Child Messages” to disable all the NMEA messages. None of these are needed for an RTK solution but if you want any of the messages for other reasons you can then individually enable the ones you need.
  8. From the “Messages” window, double click on “UBX” then “RXM”. Right click and enable “RAWX” to enable raw observation messages and “SFRBX” to enable navigation messages. Alternatively, you can enable the RTCM3 messages from the “Gen 9 Configure” window. In this case you will want to enable the 1077,1087,1097,and 1127 messages. I have occasionally had trouble enabling the RTCM3 messages on the F9P and have had to use the “Revert to default configuration” option under the “CFG” command first to get this working.
  9. If an antenna is connected to the receiver and is not completely blocked, verify that you see RAWX and SFRBX messages appear in the “Packet” window.
  10. From the “Configure” window, select “CFG”, then “Save current configuration” then “Send” to save these settings to the flash on-board the F9P module.
  11. Repeat this procedure for the base receiver except set the “Measurement Period” under “RATE” to “1000 ms” for a 1 Hz sample rate. You will only need one set of navigation data so you can choose not to enable the SFRBX messages on the base. I tend to leave them enabled just because it makes plotting slightly easier later if each set of observations has its own navigation data.

If you have any trouble with the above summary, you might find this YouTube video from Robo Roby useful. It is intended for setting up the F9P for real-time solutions, not post-processing, but there is a lot of overlap between the two.

In the descriptions below STRSVR, RTKCONV, RTKPLOT, and RTKPOST are all RTKLIB GUI apps. They can be opened individually or you can start by opening RTKLAUNCH and run the individual apps from there. I do not believe the official 2.4.2 or 2.4.3 versions of RTKLIB fully support the F9P receiver yet so I would recommend using the demo5 version of RTKLIB available here.

RTKLAUNCH used to open the different RTKLIB apps

Step 2: Collecting the data:

  1. For this exercise I will connect both base and rover directly to a Windows PC through the USB port. You can connect both receivers to one PC or each to a separate PC.
  2. Launch two instances of STRSVR, one for each receiver
  3. Set the input stream to “Serial”, click on the input “Opt” button and set the port and baud rate. Set the output stream to file and click on the output “Opt” to set the file name. Click on the “?” to get a list of keyword replacements for the file name. I like to add “_%h%M” to the end of the file name which will append the hour and minute of the data to the file name. If you are collecting long data sets you might want to set the “Swap Intv” to break up the data into manageable file sizes. Note that you will need to use the keywords in this case to avoid overwriting the same file repeatedly. Give the file name a “.ubx” extension to let RTKLIB know that it is u-blox binary data.
  4. Click “Start” to start collecting data.
STRSVR used to collect the raw data

Step 3: Convert the observation data to rinex format:

  1. Start the RTKCONV app
  2. Click on the “…” button to the right of the “RTCM, RCV RAW or RINEX OBS” field and select the observation file created in the previous step.
  3. If the file extension is not “.ubx” set the “Format” to “u-blox”, otherwise leave as “Auto”
  4. Click on the “Options” button and select “L1”, “L2/E5b”, and all GNSS constellations collected (usually “GPS”,”GLO”,”GAL”, and possibly “BDS” (Bediou) depending on your location. Then close the options menu.
  5. Click on “Convert” to convert from binary to rinex format.
RTKCONV used to convert the raw data from binary format to rinex text format

Step 4: Review the observation data:

  1. Before processing the solution, it is a good idea to look at the data first and make sure it is complete, of reasonable quality, and at the right sample rate.
  2. From the RTKCONV main window, click on “Plot” to plot the observations you just converted.
  3. Verify there are observations from all constellations. Green indicates dual frequency measurements, yellow is single frequency. The GPS observations will be a mix of single and dual frequency since only about half of the satellites currently support L2C used by the F9P, but the other constellations should be nearly all dual frequency.
  4. Red ticks indicate cycle slips. Too many of these will make it difficult to get a decent solution. Gaps in the data usually indicate the receiver lost lock and these are not good unless they are in the low elevation satellites.
  5. If all the satellites are in gray, this usually indicates you are missing the navigation data. The previous step should have generated a “.nav” file as well as a “.obs” file. If just a few satellites are in gray, this normally indicates that they are below the elevation threshold which can be adjusted in the options menu selected in the top right corner with the star-like icon.
  6. Check both rover and base observations.
  7. In some cases you may only have one set of navigation data and so not have a matching “.nav” file for one of your observation files. In that case you can manually specify the navigation data with the “Open Nav Data…” option in the “File” tab.
Plot of raw observations

Step 5: Generate the position solution

  1. Open RTKPOST
  2. From the “…” buttons on the right hand side of the GUI, select the rover observation file, the base observation file, and the navigation file as shown in the example below.
  3. Click on the “Options” button and then the “Load” button. Select the “demo5_m8t_5hz.conf” file from the same folder as the demo5 RTKLIB executables, and then click on “Open”
  4. From the “Setting1” tab in the “Options” menu, enable “Galileo” and if applicable “Bediou”. “GPS” and “GLO” should already be enabled.
  5. From the “Setting2” tab in the “Options” menu, set “Integer Ambiguity Res (GLO)” to “On”. We are able to use the “On” setting in this case because the receivers are identical and so the Glonass hardware biases cancel. If you are not using an F9P receiver for base, then leave this field set to “Fix-and-Hold” which will automatically calibrate out the biases.
  6. From the “Setting1” tab in the “Options” menu, change the “Frequencies” from “L1” to “L1+L2”. This is the only change you should need to make to switch from processing single-frequency data to dual-frequency data for the F9P. The Galileo second frequency for the F9P is actually E5b not L2 but to simplify and improve the processing speed, I have modified the demo5 code to include “E5b” processing as Galileo’s second frequency. This won’t be the case for the 2.4.2 or 2.4.3 code. I don’t believe it’s currently possible to include the E5b data with these versions of RTKLIB but if I’m wrong please let me know
  7. Click on “OK” to close the Options menu.
  8. Click on “Execute” to run the solution. The bar at the bottom of the GUI will show the solution status as it runs and will report any errors. You should see a mix of Q=1 and Q=2 as the solution runs. If you see only Q=0, something is wrong. In this case, open the “Options” window, select the “Output” tab and set “Output Debug Trace” to “Level3”, exit the Options menu, and rerun the solution. Then open the “.trace” file in the solution folder for additional information on what went wrong.
  9. Click on “Plot” to plot the solution with RTKPLOT
RTKPOST used to generate a PPK solution
Plot RTKPOST generated PPK solution

This was just meant to be a quick summary of the process. For more details please see the references below.

References:

  1. u-center User Guide
  2. u-blox F9P Interface Description
  3. RTKLIB manual
  4. Updated guide to the RTKLIB configuration file
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Event logging with RTKLIB and the u-blox M8T receiver

Event logging is a nice feature that has been available in the Emlid version of RTKLIB for a long time.  In the latest version of the demo5 code (b29e), I have ported this feature from their open-source code repository.  Their version is specifically for the u-blox M8T receiver but I have extended it to support the Swiftnav receiver as well.  I mentioned this feature in my previous post and had a couple requests for more information, hence this post.

Both the u-blox and Swiftnav receivers have hardware/firmware to capture the precise time an external pin changes state and send out a binary message with this information.  The RTKLIB event logging code decodes these messages and logs the events to the rinex file.  The events in the rinex file are then used in post-processing to generate a position log containing an interpolated position for each timing event. The most popular use for this feature is probably to record camera shutter times but it can also be used for other purposes such as marking survey locations in the data stream.

Here is an example of a drone flight from a data set containing events that I downloaded from the Emlid forum.  On the left is the ground track of the standard position solution plotted with RTKPLOT.  It includes one point for every rover observation epoch.  On the right is a plot of the event positions from the new event position file.  In this case there is one point for every event which gives precise locations for each camera image.  This is very useful information when processing the images.

event1

Here are the positions of the two plotted on top of each other, green dots are the rover observation epochs from the position file and the blue dots are the events from the event position file.  As you can see from the plot, the event positions are interpolated from the observation epochs.

event4

 

There is information in the Emlid and Swiftnav documentation on how to connect an external trigger to their hardware so I won’t cover that here.

Instead, I will go through an example using an M8T receiver from CSGShop.  I will also use this example to try and validate this feature since there has been some discussion on the Emlid forum about potential issues that as far as I can tell have not been completely resolved on the forum.

The CSGShop M8T receiver comes in several variations.  To use event logging you will need to choose a board that provides access to the external interrupt pins.  You can use either EXINT0 or EXINT1.  For this experiment I also use the TIMEPULSE pin to provide triggers for the event logging.  Here is an image of the receiver and the interface pins.

event9

The goal of this experiment is to generate events for which I know their precise timing so I can use them to validate the RTKLIB event logging results.  To do this, I configured the M8T TIMEPULSE output for a period of two seconds and a falling edge that occurs at 0.2 seconds, all in GPST time.  I then connected the TIMEPULSE output pin to the EXTINT1 input pin so that each state change of the output pulse will be recorded as an event.  Although the M8T will record both rising edges and falling edges, RTKLIB is setup to record only the falling edges.

To configure the timing pulse, I used the u-blox u-center app to setup the UBX-CFG-TP5 command as shown below.

event2

I then enabled the UBX-TIM-TM2 messages which the receiver uses to output the event information.  Next, I opened the table view in u-center and configured it to log GPS time, and the rise and fall times for EXTINT1.  This information is extracted from GPRMC and TIM-TM2 messages.  As you can see the falling edges of the pulse are occurring at exactly 0.2 seconds on the even seconds in GPS time so it looks like we have correctly configured the output pulse

event3

Now that I have external events occurring at precisely known times, I can use these to test the RTKLIB code.   The u-blox example command files that I include with the demo5 executables already are setup to enable the UBX-TIM-TM2 messages, so there is no need to make any changes there.

The next step is to collect some base and rover data using the modified receiver as rover.  I did that, and then converted the raw .ubx files to rinex using the new demo5 version of RTKCONV.  The events appear with a time stamp followed by a 5 in the next field to indicate an external event as shown below.  The zero in the last field indicates it is a valid time mark.

event5

The observation epochs are occurring every second, so notice that the event is being logged out of sequence with a one sample delay.  I did not see this with the Emlid data set example described above.  However, I do see the same delay  if I use the Emlid code to convert the binary file instead of my code.  I don’t know if the Emlid hardware has somehow been configured to avoid this sequencing issue or whether it can occur on the Emlid hardware as well.  I’ll get back to this in a minute.

Next I ran RTKPOST to calculate a position solution.  With the new code changes, a *.events.pos file is generated in addition to the *.pos file.  It is the same format as the *.pos file but contains the event positions instead of the observation epoch positions.  Note, that it will be generated for absolute solutions (XYZ,LLH) LLH but not for relative (ENU) solutions.

I first did this with the Emlid code and got the following result when plotting both the position file and event position file.

event6

The events are occurring at the correct times, but note that unlike the previous example, the positions are not being correctly interpolated between the two closest observation epochs.  In fact, if you look carefully you will see they are being extrapolated from the two previous observation epochs.  This is most obvious in the N-S axis points and is occurring because the events are being logged out of sequence.

To fix this, I modified the interpolation code to use the nearest observation epochs even when the event logging was delayed by one sample.  Here is the result using the latest demo5 b30 code.

event7

Looking at the time stamps from the position log and the event position log, shown below, you can see that the observation epochs are occurring on the integer seconds and the events are occurring 0.2 seconds later on the even seconds, all in GPST time, just as we set them up to occur and verified with u-center.

event8

So I don’t fully understand why the time stamps are appearing out of sequence with the CSGShop M8T data and not in the Emlid M8T data.  It may be that Emlid has configured the hardware somehow so this can not happen.  If this is true, then there should be no issue using the Emlid RTKLIB code with Emlid data but be careful using it with data from other hardware.  If anybody has any additional insight into this discrepancy please leave a comment.

I should also mention that all these code changes are in the core code so are present in both the command line apps as well as the GUI apps.  The most recent demo5 executables (b29e) do not contain the fix for interpolating delayed events and will function the same as the Emlid code.  The Github respository does have this fix.  The fix will also be in the demo5 b30 executables which I hope to release soon.

Newest U-blox M8N receivers not usable with RTKLIB

It looks like it is no longer possible to access the raw GPS measurements on the newest version of the u-blox M8N receiver.  Access to these raw measurements on the M8N has always been through debug messages not officially supported by u-blox.  Last year, when they migrated from the 2.01 version of firmware to the 3.01, version they scrambled the output of these messages so they were no longer readable by RTKLIB.

Until recently though, the units they were shipping still had an older 2.01 version of ROM.  With these units it is possible to downgrade the firmware to 2.01 using the instructions on their website.  With the older firmware loaded, the receivers revert to their previous behavior and the debug messages are no longer scrambled.

Apparently their newest units are shipping with a 3.01 version of ROM and this ROM is not compatible with the older 2.01 version of firmware.  If you attempt to load the older firmware it will appear to succeed but will still be running the newer code.

You can see what version of ROM and firmware your receiver is running using the UBX-MON-VER message from the u-center console.  The example below shows the message output for one of the newer modules with the 3.01 ROM after attempting to download the older firmware.  I believe the firmware listed under “Extension(s)” is the ROM version and the firmware listed under “Software Version” is the version of firmware loaded to flash.  In this case you can see that the ROM is version 3.01 and that the flash is still running version 3.01 even though it was attempted to load the 2.01 firmware.

fw_ver

In an older version of the M8N module, the ROM code listed under “Extension(s)” would have been 2.01 and the firmware listed under “Software Version” could be either 2.01 or 3.01 depending on how old the module was and what firmware had been downloaded to it.

There are a few more details about the issue on the u-blox forum in this thread.  Thanks to Marco for making me aware of the issue and Clive and Helge for providing a detailed explanation of what is going on.

If you are using the u-blox M8T, and not the M8N, then you will be using the officially supported raw measurement messages and would normally not care about access to the debug messages.  The only exception I know of is that the resolution of the SNR measurements are 0.2 dB in the debug messages and 1.0 in the official messages.  I have not confirmed that the debug messages on the 3.01 M8T firmware are scrambled but it is likely that they are.

[Note 6/25/17:  A couple of readers have pointed out that this is not the whole story.  It would have been more correct to say that the newest M8N modules are not usable with the publicly available versions of u-blox firmware and RTKLIB.  It turns out that u-blox did not use a particularly sophisticated method to scramble the debug messages and there are now several modified versions of u-blox firmware and RTKLIB floating around that have been hacked to unscramble the messages.  I don’t want to get into the question of ethics or legality of using these codes but just say that I personally am less comfortable using the debug messages in the modules where u-blox has made an obvious attempt to prevent this and have avoided any use of them at least for the time being.]

Configuring the GPS receiver

At this point, the GPS receiver is connected to your PC through the USB port and is ready to configure and verify that all is working OK.

Ublox provides a nice evaluation software package for Windows called u-center that makes this very easy.  You can download it for free from here.  It makes it easy to explore all the configuration options for your receiver and make sure everything is working properly before we move to RTKLIB.

After you have downloaded the program and started it up, use the “Port” option in the “Receiver” tab to select the USB port that the receiver is connected to.  It will probably be the only option, and in my case it is “COM3”.

[Update 11/27/16:  If you don’t see your receivers listed in the Port menu it is probably related to some recent windows driver changes from COM ports to location sensors.  See this post for details]

You should see the connection status box at the bottom of the window go to green and list the baud rate that the receiver is configured for, probably 9600 baud if you haven’t changed it.  If everything is working properly, you should now be able to click on the various display icons and see sky positions, signal strengths, status, etc for all the satellites the receiver is tracking.

To configure the receiver, select the “Configuration View” from the View menu.   All of the receiver configuration options for this receiver will appear in the menu and you can read what the currently is set to with the “Poll” button or change the configuration by changing the settings and hitting “Send”.  For details on what all these settings mean, see the Neo-M8 Receiver Description.

I recommend first increasing the baud rate to something faster than the 9600 default.  I found 115200 worked fine with my setup.  To do this, select “PRT” from the “Configure” window and set the “Baudrate” field to 115200, then  select the “Send” button at the bottom of the page.  You may need to re-select the port to let the eval software match its baudrate to the receiver.

 

 

ucenter1

 

Next, select the “Messages View” from the “View” tab.  From here, you can see which NMEA messages are enabled and being output by the receiver.  The enabled messages are displayed in bold.  You may want to disable all of them to reduce unnecessary information from being continuously transferred over the serial port.  We will be using Ublox specific binary messages for RTKLIB so do not need any of the NMEA messages enabled.  Be aware, though, that the eval software is using these messages, so if you disable them, the display windows will stop updating.  To enable or disable a message, right click on it and select the appropriate action.

Once you have the receiver configured properly, you will want to save the settings to the on-board flash.  Do this from the “CFG” menu item on the “Configuration View” by selecting “Save current configuration” and then the “Send” button.

We still need to enable the raw receiver outputs for pseudorange and carrier phase, but since they require using unsupported commands, we will do that from RTKLIB.