Swiftnav experiment: Improvements to the SNR

In my previous couple of posts, I evaluated the performance of a pair of dual freqeuncy SwiftNav Piksi multi receivers in a moving rover with local base scenario.  I used a pair of single frequency u-blox M8T receivers fed with the same antenna signals as a baseline reference.

It was pointed out to me that the signal to noise ratio (SNR) measurements of the rovers were noticeably lower than the bases, especially the L2 measurements and that this might be affecting the validity of the comparison.  This seemed to be a valid concern so I spent some time digging into this discrepancy and did indeed find some issues.  I will describe the issues as well as the process of tracking them down since I think it could be a useful exercise for any RTK/PPK user to potentially improve their signal quality.

Previously , in another post, I described a somewhat similar exercise tracking down some signal quality issues caused by EMI from the motor controllers on a drone.  In that case, though, the degradation was more severe and I was able to track it down by monitoring cycle slips.  In this case, the degradation is more subtle and does not directly show up in the cycle slips.

Every raw observation from the receiver generally includes a signal strength measurement as well as pseudorange and carrier phase measurements.  The SwiftNav and u-blox receivers both actually report carrier to noise density ratio (C/NO), rather than signal to noise ratio (SNR) but both are measures of signal strength.  They are labelled as SNR in the RTKLIB output, so to avoid confusion I will refer to them as SNR as well.  I will only be using them to compare relative values so the difference isn’t important for this exercise, but for anyone interested, there is a good explanation of the difference between them here.  Both are logarithmic values measured in dB or dB-Hz so 6 dB represents a factor of two in signal strength.

Since the base and rover have very similar configurations we would expect similar SNR numbers between the two, at least when the rover antenna is not obstructed by trees or other objects.  I selected an interval of a few minutes when the rover was on the open highway and plotted SNR by receiver and frequency for base and rover.  Here are the results, base on the left and rover on the right.  The Swift L1 is on the top, L2 in the middle, and the u-blox L1 on the bottom.  To avoid too much clutter on the plots, I show only the GLONASS SNR values, but the other constellations look similar.

snr1

Notice that the L1 SNR for both rovers is at least 6 dB (a factor of 2) lower than the base, and the Swift L2 SNR is more like 10 dB lower.  These are significant enough losses in the rover to possibly affect the quality of the measurement.

The next step was to try and isolate where the losses were coming from.  I set up the receiver configurations as before and used the “Obs Data” selection in the “RTK Monitor” window in RTKNAVI to monitor the SNR values in real time for both base and rover as well as the C/NO tracking window in the Swift console app.  I then started changing the configuration to see if the SNR values changed.  The base and rover antennas were similar but not identical so I first swapped out the rover antenna but this did not make a difference.  I then moved the rover antenna off of the car roof and onto a nearby tripod to see if the large ground plane (car roof) was affecting the antenna but this also did not make a difference.  I then removed the antenna splitter, but again no change.

Next, I started modifying the cable configuration between the receivers and my laptop.  To conveniently be able to both collect solution data and be able to collect and run a real-time solution on the raw Swift observations, I have been connecting both a USB serial cable and an ethernet cable between the Swift board and my laptop.  My laptop is an ultra-slim model and uses an etherent->USB adapter cable to avoid the need for a high profile ethernet connector.  So, with two receivers and my wireless mouse, I end up having more USB cables than USB ports on my computer and had to plug some into a USB hub that was then plugged into my laptop.

The first change in SNR occured when I unplugged the ethernet cable from the laptop and plugged it into the USB hub.  This didn’t affect the L1 measurements much but caused the Swift L2 SNR to drop another 10 dB!  Wrong direction, but at least I had a clue here.

By moving all of the data streams between Swift receiver and laptop (base data to Swift, raw data to laptop, internal solution to laptop) over to the ethernet connection I was able to eliminate one USB serial port cable.  This was enough to eliminate the USB hub entirely and plug both the USB serial cable from the u-blox receiver and the ethernet->USB cable from the Swift receiver directly into the laptop.  I also plugged the two cables into opposite sides of the laptop and wrapped the ethernet->USB adapter with aluminum foil which may have improved things slightly more.

Here is the same plot as above after the changes to the cabling from a drive around the neighborhood.

snr2

I wasn’t able to eliminate the differences entirely, but the results are much closer now.  The biggest difference now between the base configuration and the rover configuration is that I am using a USB serial cable for the base, and a ethernet->USB adapter cable for the rover so I suspect that cable is still generating some interference and that is causing the remaining signal loss in the rover.  Unfortunately I can not run all three streams I need for this experiment over the serial cable, so I am not able to get rid of the ethernet cable.

I did two driving tests with the new configuration, similar to the ones I described in the previous posts.   One was through the city of Boulder and again included going underneath underpasses and a parking garage.  The second run was through the older and more challenging residential neighborhood.  Both runs looked pretty good, a little better than the previous runs but it is not really fair to compare run to run since the satellite geometry and atmospheric conditions will be different between runs.  The relative solutions between Swift and u-blox didn’t change much though, which is probably expected since the cable changes improved both rovers by fairly similar amounts.

Here’s a quick summary of the fix rates for the two runs.  The fix rates for the residential neighborhood look a little low relative to last time but in this run I only included the most difficult neighborhood so it was a more challenging run than last time.

Fix rates

City/highway Residential
Swift internal RTK 93.60% 67.50%
Swift RTKLIB PPK 93.70% 87.90%
U-blox RTKLIB RTK 95.70% 92.80%
U-blox RTKLIB PPK 96.10% 91.10%

Here are the city/highway runs,  real-time on the top, post-process on the bottom with Swift on the left and u-blox on the right.  For the most part all solutions had near 100% fix except when recovering from going underneath the overpasses and parking garage.

snr4

Here are the same sequence of solutions for the older residential neighborhood.  This was more challenging than the city driving because of the overhanging trees and caused some amount of loss of fix in all solutions.

snr5

Here’s the same images of the recovery after driving under an underpass and underneath a parking garage that I showed in the previous post.  Again, the relative differences between Swift and u-blox didn’t change much, although the Swift may have improved a little.

snr1

Overall, the improvements from better SNR were incremental rather than dramatic, but still important for maximizing the robustness of the solutions.  This exercise of comparing base SNR to rover SNR and tracking down any discrepancies could be a useful exercise for anyone trying to improve their RTK or PPK results.

Advertisements

Underpasses and urban canyons

[Update: 4/17/18:  Although I don’t think it changes the results of this experiment significantly, there was an issue with apparent interference from a USB hub and ethernet cable on the rover setup during this testing.  See the next post for more details. ]

In my last post I demonstrated fairly similar fix rates and accuracies between an M8T single-frequency  four-constellation solution and a SwiftNav Piksi dual-frequency two-constellation solution.

One advantage often mentioned for dual frequency solutions for moving rovers is that their faster acquisition times should help when fix is lost due to a complete outage of satellite view caused by an underpass or other obstruction.  This makes sense since the dual frequency measurements should allow the ambiguities to be resolved again more quickly.

Since my last data set included several of these types of obstructions I thought it would be interesting to compare performance specifically for these cases.

To create the Google Earth images below I used the RTKLIB application POS2KML to translate the solution files to KML format files and then opened them with Google Earth.

Here are the raw observations for the first underpass I went under, Swift rover on the left, M8T rover on the right.  In this case there was an overhead sign just before the underpass which caused a momentary outage on all satellites followed by about a two second outage from the underpass, followed by a period of half cycle ambiguity as the receivers re-locked to the carrier phases.

upass2

Here’s the internal Swift solution for the sign/underpass combo above at the top of the photo and a second underpass at the bottom of the photo.  For the first underpass, the solution is lost at the sign, achieves a float solution (yellow) after about 9 seconds, then re-fixes (green) after 35 seconds.

upass5

Here’s the RTKLIB post-processed solution (forward only) for the Swift receivers with fix-and-hold low tracking gain enabled as described in my previous post.  It looks like a small improvement for both underpasses.  The solution loses fix at the sign but in this case maintains a float solution until the underpass.

upass6

Here’s the RTKLIB post-processed solution (same config) for the M8T receivers.  Notice the no-solution gaps after the underpasses are shorter.  In this case, for the upper underpass, a solid fix was re-achieved after about 21 sec.

upass7

Here’s a zoom in of the M8T solution (yellow dots) for the lower underpass.  If the position were being used for lane management it looks like the float solution would probably be accurate enough for this.  The other yellow line with no dots is the gap in the Swift solution.

upass8

Here’s a little further down the road.  At this point the Swift solution achieves a float position at about the same time the M8T solution switches to fix.  Lane management would clearly be more difficult with the initial Swift float solution.

upass9

Next, I’ll show a few images from another underpass.  In this case I drove under the underpass from the left, turned around, then drove under the underpass again from the right.  The Swift internal solution is on the left, the Swift RTKLIB solution in the middle, and the M8T RTKLIB solution on the right.  Notice that the time to re-acquire a fix is fairly similar in all three cases.

upass1

Here is zoom in of the two Swift solutions, they are quite similar.

upass3

Here is a zoom-in of the M8T RTKLIB solution.  Again, the float solution is achieved very quickly, and appears to be accurate enough for lane management.

upass4

My last test case was a combination urban canyon and parking structure.  In the photo below, I drove off the main street to the back of the parking garage, underneath the pedestrian walkway, into the back corner, then underneath the back end of the garage and then back to the main street.  I would consider this a quite challenging case for any receiver.

ucanyon1

Here are the raw observations.

ucanyon0

Here are the three solutions, again the Swift internal is on the left, the Swift RTKLIB in the center, and the M8T RTKLIB on the right.

ucanyon1

 

Here is an image of the Swift internal solution.

ucanyon4

Here is an image of the Swift RTKLIB solution

ucanyon3

And here is an image of the M8T RTKLIB solution

ucanyon2

In this case, the M8T RTKLIB solution appears to be the best.

So, this experiment seems to show that a dual frequency solution will not always handle satellite outages better than single frequency solutions.  In this case, the extra Galileo and SBAS satellites in the M8T solution seem to have helped a fair bit, and the M8T solution is, at least to me, surprisingly good.

If anyone is interested in analyzing this data further, I have uploaded the raw data, real-time solutions, and config files for the post-processed solutions to the sample data sets on my website, available here.  I should mention that there is an unexplained outage in the Swift base station data near the end of the data set.  This could have been caused by many things, most of them unrelated to the Swift receiver, so all the analysis in both this post and the previous post were done only for the data before the outage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Improved results with the new SwiftNav 1.4 firmware

I last took a look at the SwiftNav Piksi Multi low-cost dual-frequency receiver back in November last year when they introduced the 1.2 version of FW.  They are now up to a 1.4 version of firmware so I thought it was time to take another look.  The most significant improvement in this release is the addition of GLONASS ambiguity resolution to the internal RTK solutions but they also have made some improvements in the quality of the raw observations.

I started with a quick spin around the neighborhood on my usual test route.  The initial results looked quite good, so for the next test I expanded my route to include a drive to and around Boulder, Colorado, a small nearby city of just over 100,000.  The route included some new challenges including underpasses, urban canyons, higher velocities, and even a pass underneath a parking structure.  This is the first time I have expanded the driving test outside my local neighborhood.

My test configuration was similar to previous tests.  I used a ComNav  AT330  antenna on my house roof for the base station, and a SwiftNav GPS-500 antenna on top of my car for the rover. I split the antenna signals and in both cases, fed one side to a Piksi receiver and the other side to a  to a u-blox M8T single frequency receiver.   I ran an internal real-time RTK solution on the Piksi rover and an RTKNAVI RTK real-time solution on the M8T rover.  The M8T receivers ran a four constellation single frequency solution (GPS/GLONASS/Galileo/SBAS) to act as a baseline while the Piksi receivers ran a two constellation (GPS/GLONASS) dual frequency solution.  Both rovers were running at a 5 Hz sample rate and both bases were running at a 1 Hz sample rate.  The distance between rover and base varied from 0 to just over 13 km.  The photos below show different parts of the route.

niwot_boulder

Here are the real-time solutions for the two receiver pairs, internal Swift on the left, and RTKNAVI M8T on the right.

swift14_3

Both solutions had similar fix rates (79.9% for Swift, 82.6% for M8T) and in both cases the float sections occurred for the most part either in the older neighborhood with larger trees (top middle) of after underpasses (bottom left).  The higher velocity (100 km/hour) on the highway (center) did not cause any trouble for either solution.

Based on a comparison of the two solutions, accuracy was relatively good for the fix sections of both solutions.  Below on the left, is the difference between both solutions for points where both solutions had a fix.  In the center and right are plots of both solutions (Swift internal=green,M8T RTKNAVI=blue) for the two locations with the longest duration discrepancies of any magnitude.  Both look like false fixes by the Swift internal solution, based on the discontinuities.  Overall, though the errors between the two were reasonably small and of short duration.

swift14_2

Post-processing the Swift data with RTKLIB produced the solution on the left below with an 85.5% fix rate and a good match to the M8T solution.  The difference between both solutions for the fixed point is shown on the right.  This solution was run with continuous ambiguity resolution.

swift14_4

 

For more challenging environments like this I often add some tracking gain to the ambiguities by enabling “fix-and-hold” for the ambiguity resolution mode but setting the variance  of the feedback (input parameter pos2-varholdamb) to a fairly large number (0.1 or 1.0) to effectively de-weight the feedback and keep the tracking gain low.  For comparison, the default variance for fix-and-hold mode feedback is 0.001 which results in quite a high tracking gain.  I find that with the low tracking gain, I generally do not have an issue with fix-and-hold locking on to false fixes.

Running RTKLIB solutions for Swift and M8T with this change (fix-and-hold AR enabled, pos2-varholdamb=1.0) improved the fix ratio for the Swift RTKLIB solution from 85.5% to 91.1% and the M8T RTKLIB solution from 82.6% to 92.6% with no apparent degradation in accuracy.

Using a combined solution instead of a forward solution (only a choice for post-processing) improved the fix ratios even further, again with no apparent degradation in accuracy.  The Swift RKLIB solution increased to a 96.2% fix rate and the M8T RTKLIB solution increased to 94.1%.

Overall, the Swift RTKLIB solutions were noticeably better and more consistent than in my previous test.  Considering the difficulty of the environment, I consider all of these solutions to be very good.

In my next post, I will look specifically at how the two receivers handled going through a narrow urban canyon, underneath three underpasses and underneath a parking structure.

New 1.2 Swift firmware with a moving rover

In the last couple of posts I compared the u-blox M8T receiver and the Swift Piksi Multi receiver for a stationary rover and an external base station using the latest 1.2 firmware from Swift.  I did this for both RTK and PPP solutions.  In this post I will look at a moving rover case with a pair of Piksi receivers and a pair of M8T receivers.

The new Swift firmware supports raw observations and float solutions for the GLONASS satellites, but does not yet support ambiguity resolution for GLONASS.  In the previous experiments the lack of GLONASS ambiguity resolution did not affect the comparison since an external (non-matching reciever) base was used. This meant that the RTKLIB solutions were not able to use GLONASS ambiguity resolution either.

In this experiment I did use matching receivers for the base data, so the RTKLIB solutions do include GLONASS ambiguity resolution and so should provide an advantage to the Swift internal solutions.  As I did last time, I will compare the real-time Swift RTK solution with post-processed RTKLIB solutions for the Piksi pair and the M8T pair.  In this case the M8T receivers are from CSG Shop and are running the 3.01 firmware so they include Galileo observations in addition to GPS, GLONASS, and SBAS.

In my previous moving rover experiments I shared a base antenna for the two base receivers but used separate antennas for the two rover receivers.  In this case I decided to also share the rover antenna between the two rover receivers to enable some more direct comparisons.  The base antenna is the same Swift GPS-500 antenna mounted on my roof that I used for the rover in the previous experiment.  The rovers are using a Tallysman TW7872 antenna mounted on top of a car.  In both cases I use a capacitively coupled splitter to isolate the two receivers and allow only one DC supply voltage to reach the antenna.  As usual, the data was collected while driving around my local neighborhood.

Whenever connecting two receivers to one antenna, or even locating to antennas close to each other there is always the concern that they may interfere with each other.  So, as a baseline, I first did a run with separate antennas for the rovers.  I used my inexpensive u-blox antenna for the M8T since it has a very long cable allowing me to separate both the receivers and the antennas by over a meter.  Here are the position solutions for the baseline test.  The Swift internal solution is on the left, the RTKLIB post-processed solution in the middle, and the M8T post-processed solution on the right.  As always, green is fixed points and yellow is float.

swift_newfw10

The post-processed solutions were both run forward-only and with continuous ambiguity resolution including GLONASS.  The percent fix for the three solutions were 69% for the Swift internal solution, 33% for the Swift RTKLIB solution, and 75% for the M8T RTKLIB solution.  I will use percent fix as a very coarse measure of goodness for now, later I will look at the solutions in more detail.  In this case I consider the Swift internal solution and the M8T RTKLIB solution roughly equal.  Both achieved 100% fix for a number of circles in a parking lot with open skies (22:30 to 22:35), and both struggled with partial fixes on the rest of the route which had more obstructed sky views driving along residential streets.  The Swift RTKLIB solution was noticeably worse and had 0% fix in the parking lot, and lower percent fix everywhere else.

I then re-ran a similar route a short time later, but this time with the M8T rover sharing the dual frequency antenna with the Swift rover, produced the following results in the same order as above.  The percent fixes were 53% for the Swift internal solution, 79% for the Swift RTKLIB solution, and 62% for the M8T RTKLIB solution.

swift_newfw9

Again I would consider the Swift internal and the M8T RTKLIB solutions roughly equal.  A different parking lot with open skies (1:43 to 1:48), gave no trouble to either solution, but both had only partial fix for the rest of the route.  In this case the Swift RTKLIB solution was noticeably better than the other two solutions which is interesting since last time it was noticeably worse.  This has been my experience in general with the Swift RTKLIB solutions, that they tend to be quite inconsistent.  With the previous firmware I traced some of the reason for this to unreported cycle slips.  I suspect the same is probably going on here but haven’t looked close enough to fully verify that.  As far as any interference occurring between the antennas, if it exists, it is too small to detect with this simple comparison.

Here are the raw observations for the two rovers for the second run, M8T on the left, Swift on the right.  Green lines are dual frequency, yellow are single frequency and red ticks are cycle slips.  There are 19 measurements available for the M8T solution and 22 for the Swift solution.  All are used for ambiguity resolution in the RTKLIB solutions but only the 11 GPS measurements are used for ambiguity resolution in the internal Swift solution.  The relatively cycle-slip-free region from 1:43 to 1:48 is from the parking lot where the sky views are open.

swift_newfw11

Since the exact same signal was fed into both receivers the observations can be compared more directly than in previous experiments.  Here is a zoom into the time in the parking lot and shortly after.   If you look carefully, you will notice that there are definitely more cycle slips reported in the M8T observations than in the Swift data.

swift_newfw7

We can verify if those cycle slips are real or not by plotting the double differences of the bias states from the RTKLIB statistics output file.  I selected two satellites that had more cycle slips in the M8T data, G03 and R04, and plotted their double differences relative to the most cycle-free satellite in their constellation.  In the plots below, the red lines are the double differences from the M8T bias states and the blue lines are the double differences from the Swift bias states.  The red circles are cycle slips reported in the observations and the discrete jumps are actual cycle slips.  The green x’s are half cycle invalid flags and not relevant to this particular example.

swift_newfw8

 

Both plots show good correlation between the reported cycle slips and the true cycle slips as well as confirming that their are more slips in the M8T observations than in the Swift observations.  So, at least in this example, the quality of the Swift observations is noticeably better than the M8T observations, even though both came from the same antenna.  Of course this might be expected since the Swift receiver, although low cost by dual frequency standards,  is still significantly more expensive than the M8T receiver.

The solutions however, don’t reflect this difference in observation quality.  The Swift internal solution appears to be no better, and possibly even a little worse than the RTKLIB M8T solution.  This is probably because the M8T solutions include GLONASS ambiguity resolution and the Swift solutions do not.  Once Swift adds this feature to their firmware I would expect the Swift internal solutions to be better than the M8T solutions.

The variability for the results from the Swift RTKLIB solutions are harder to explain and I don’t have any good answers for this yet.  I still do see cases of unreported cycle slips causing problems even with the new firmware and suspect this is a part of it.  I hope to investigate this further.

Another thing I wanted to look at is how good are the float solutions.  In Swift’s description of the new firmware they state that:

“Swift also suggests that users utilize the estimated accuracy fields
in navigation outputs for an indication of solution quality rather than using the
transition to RTK “fixed” mode as an indicator of solution quality, as the new
and improved float solution performance can often fulfill precision navigation
requirements.”

So, let’s take a look at the float portion of the internal Swift solution.  I loaded the .csv output file from the Swift internal solution into matlab, then plotted histograms for the horizontal and vertical accuracies for the fix and float solution points.  Here’s what it looks like:

swift_newfw_12

Notice that the float accuracies are significantly larger than the fix accuracies but they are probably realistic unlike the RTKLIB float accuracies which I demonstrated to be at least a factor of two overly optimistic in a recent post.

Here is an example of the solution points from the above data set in which the RTKLIB solution re-converges more quickly than the Swift internal solution.  This allows us to evaluate the accuracy of the Swift float values.  The top plot is one component of the horizontal position, and the bottom plot is the vertical position. Yellow is the Swift float solution, Olive green is the RTKLIB float solution and blue is the RTKLIB fix solution.  From the beginning of the data to 22:47:14 both solutions are float.  The RTKLIB solution converges to a fix at 22:47:14 and the Swift internal solution converges to a fix at 22:47:37.  Since both solutions eventually converge to the same value I will assume the RTKLIB fix solution is correct.

swift_newfw_13 The errors in the float solutions appear to be similar between RTKLIB and Swift and consistent with the Swift estimates of accuracy.  So the Swift float solution does not appear to be any more accurate than the RTKLIB float solution but the Swift estimates of the accuracy do seem to be more realistic.  Three quarters of a meter vertical accuracy is better than a single point solution but I suspect it is too large to be useful for many applications.  Still, it is a noticeable improvement from the very noisy float values I saw in the internal Swift solution in my previous comparison.

So what does all this mean?  I would summarize by saying that the results for a pair of Swift receivers with the new firmware are noticeably better than the results in my previous comparison and so are definitely a step in the right direction.  At least in my particular example, though, it still only puts them roughly on par with the results from a pair of M8T receivers.  They certainly seem to have the potential to be better than the M8T’s and hopefully with further improvements from Swift and maybe improvements in RTKLIB as well, we will see this soon.

I did not include a single M8T or Swift receiver paired with an external CORS or similar base station example in this moving rover comparison but would expect the Swift receiver to outperform the M8T receiver in that case because  of a better overlap in satellite pairs.  Also keep in mind that the Swift receiver does have some definite advantages in static and long baseline experiments as I showed in my previous two posts, especially the ability to get accurate locations for the base station using PPP solutions.

As always I want to emphasize that these are only one users results in one particular configuration and other users experiences in other environments could be quite different.  I have uploaded the raw data and RTKLIB config files to the sample data section on the rtkexplorer.com website if anybody would like to explore further.

I am just getting my newly borrowed NavCom receivers up and running and have upgraded my Tersus receiver with their new firmware so I hope to have results for these other low-cost dual frequency receivers soon.

 

 

PPP solutions with the Swiftnav Piksi Multi

I have had a couple recent questions about the Swiftnav receiver and PPP solutions so before leaving the stationary rover for a moving rover, I thought I would take a quick look at this subject.

Unlike RTK or PPK which are differential solutions using two receivers, PPP (precise point positioning) is an absolute solution done with just a single receiver.  Since we don’t have the advantage of eliminating the errors through differencing, it is a more challenging problem and is usually (but not always) done with dual frequency receivers for stationary targets.  RTKLIB does support PPP solutions and we will look at them too, but in general I prefer using one of the free online services since it is easier to do this and the answers are more accurate.  PPP solutions require precise clock and ephemeris data which must be downloaded from the internet.  Since you need to be connected to the internet anyways to download these, I see very little advantage to trying to run your own solution with RTKLIB unless you are using it as a learning tool.

There are several different online services available and they all have their own advantages and disadvantages.  I will use the CSRS service, provided by the government of Canada, in this experiment for a few reasons.

First of all, unlike some of the other services, CSRS uses the GLONASS satellites in the PPP solution.  This is particularly relevant for the Swift receiver since it is L2C and only half of the GPS satellites include dual frequency measurements.  In this case, including the GLONASS satellites roughly triples the number of measurements.  CSRS will also process L2C data directly.  Some of the other services won’t work with L2C data unless you modify the header of the observation file.   If you do run into this problem trying to use another service, manually editing the Rinex file header and changing the observation type from C2 to P2 in the file header will usually work.

Another reason for using CSRS for this experiment is that it will solve for single frequency data sets as well as dual frequency.  The single frequency solutions are based on code observations only and significantly less accurate than the dual frequency solutions but they are available.   In this case I will take advantage of this to compare the PPP solution for both single frequency M8T data and dual frequency Swift data.

CSRS also has a very convenient data submission tool that can be downloaded to your computer.  With this tool installed and configured, you simply need to drag any observation file onto the tool icon and it will email you a solution a few minutes later.  It’s hard to get much simpler than that!  You do need to setup an account before accessing the service or downloading the tool but that is a relatively quick and easy process and only has to be done once.

One last feature that CSRS provides that many of the other services don’t is the option to process kinematic data sets as well as static but I have not tried this out yet.

For this experiment, I used eight hours of data collected from the Swiftnav GPS-500 antenna on my roof which was connected to both a Swiftnav receiver and a u-blox M8T receiver through a splitter.  The antenna is mounted on a one meter pole at the bottom edge of a low-angled roof so has a reasonably good, but certainly not ideal, sky view.

The accuracy of the PPP solution will depend on the accuracy of the ephemeris used.  This will vary based on how long it has been since the measurement data was collected.  Here is a list from their website of the three possibilities along with their wait times and accuracies for the CSRS solutions.

  • FINAL (+/- 2 cm): combined weekly and available 13 -15 days after the end of the week
  • RAPID (+/- 5 cm): available the next day
  • ULTRA RAPID (+/- 15 cm): available every 90 minutes

In my case, I had collected this data a few days earlier so CSRS was able to use the rapid precise ephemeris data for the solution.

I converted both raw binary files to Rinex format using the RTKCONV app in RTKLIB.  CSRS only accepts the older 2.11 format so I did need to specify this in the RTKCONV options.  Usually I use the newer 3.03 format since it is easier to read and to parse with Matlab.

Next I dragged the two files onto the CSRS tool icon and a few minutes later both solutions appeared in my email folder.  I had previously configured the tool with a few bits of information including my email address.  The results included a pdf summary file and a csv file with the epoch by epoch convergence of the solution.

Here is the solution from the csv file for the Swift receiver.  The results in the file are in LLH format where latitude and longitude are both in degrees.  I converted both from degrees to meters using the appropriate meters per degree constants for my particular location, then subtracted the final point to generate the plot below.    Note that this is a different coordinate system than I used in the plots in my last post in which I converted the LLH coordinates to earth-centric XYZ coordinates.  In XYZ coordinates, the Z coordinate is only equivalent to height if you made the measurement at the North or South pole.  In this case I have used the angle to meter conversion to preserve the separation between vertical and horizontal components to better show their relative accuracies.

ppp1

In this case the horizontal components converged to something very close to the final answer in about two and a half hours whereas the vertical component doesn’t seem to have fully converged even in eight hours.

The 95% confidence levels for the results reported in the summary file were about one cm for the combined horizontal components and 2.5 cm for the vertical component.  This was consistent with my best guess for the actual errors based on both RTK and PPP measurements made with multiple receivers and online services. I estimate the actual error being about one cm in the combined horizontal components and about 1.5 cm in the vertical component.

I did not include any antenna calibration corrections in my solutions since I am not aware of a calibration file available for the GPS-500 antenna.  This means my solutions will be for the location of the phase center of the antenna, not the geometric center.    In this particular experiment, since I am only using the results to compare with other results from the same antenna, the errors will cancel and can be ignored.   Normally though, this offset will an add additional error to the position measurements.  Ideally for accurate absolute measurements, a calibrated antenna would be used, in which case the calibration file can be specified in the solution and RTKLIB will apply the correction to remove this error.

Unfortunately the CSRS PPP single frequency results for the M8T data were much less accurate with about half a meter of error in the horizontal components and three quarters of a meter error in the vertical axis.

ppp2

I then ran a PPP solution with RTKLIB for both data sets using a configuration similar to what is recommended in this tutorial.   The Swift data produced a result with very similar accuracies to the CSRS result in the horizontal components but nearly five cm of error in the vertical component.  Note that the convergence times are longer in the RTKLIB solution.  It is likely that both solutions would have reduced vertical errors if I had run with a longer data set.  The typical recommendation for PPP solutions is at least two hours of measurement data but longer data sets will generally improve accuracy.  Here is a plot of the RTKLIB PPP solution for the Swift data.

ppp3

In this case I was not able to get an RTKLIB PPP solution for the M8T data because of too large residual errors.  In other cases I have got PPP solutions with single frequency data but the accuracy of the solutions has always been much lower than the dual frequency data.  I do not have a lot of experience with the PPP settings in RTKLIB so it is possible I am not getting the most out of RTKLIB.  I hope to dig into this side of things more in the future.

PPP is great for locating static receivers but if you need to track moving rovers, you will still want to use RTK or PPK solutions for that.  The ability to get accurate locations for your base station using a PPP solution though is a significant advantage of using dual frequency receivers rather than single frequency receivers.  This is particularly true  if your base station is not close enough to a CORS type reference station to get an RTK/PPK solution for your base station location.

There is a significant advantage in having two identical receivers for RTK/PPK solutions since it will give the maximum number of overlapping measurements to difference and will allow ambiguity resolution with the GLONASS satellites.   In this case the simplest configuration would be to use Swift receivers for both base and rover.  A less expensive alternative worth considering would be to connect a Swift receiver and M8T receiver to the base station antenna through a splitter and then use an M8T receiver for the rover.   You could then use the Swift receiver to find your base location and the two M8T receivers to find the rover location relative to the base position.

For me at least, this ability to locate the base with PPP would be the most compelling reason to justify the extra cost of the Swift receivers over the M8T receivers.

Hopefully, this time in my next post, I will actually get to looking at the moving rover case with the Swift receivers.  After that I hope to do a four way comparison between the M8T, and low cost dual frequency receivers from Swift, Tersus, and ComNav.  I met Andy from ComNav at the recent drone expo in Las Vegas and he was kind enough to lend me two of their receivers and antennas for a couple months to use for evaluation.  I also understand that Tersus has recently updated their firmware so I’m quite excited about all the different options becoming available in the low cost dual frequency receiver market.

 

A first look at the new 1.2 SwiftNav firmware

Swift Navigation just released a major upgrade to the firmware for the Piksi Multi low cost dual frequency receiver.  This should significantly improve performance since it adds support for the GLONASS L1 and L2 satellites.  This is an L1/L2C only receiver so it only supports L2 on about half of the GPS satellites, those recent enough to support the new codes.    On GLONASS however, there is no L2/L2C distinction and the Swift receiver supports the second frequency on all of the GLONASS satellites.  There are fewer GLONASS satellites than GPS satellites but overall this change roughly doubles the measurements available to the solution.  Looking at a recent six hour data set I took, the number of GPS satellites varied from 7 to 9 and the total L1 plus L2 GPS measurements varied from 11 to 14.  During the same time there were only 5 to 7 GLONASS satellites but 10 to 14 total GLONASS measurements including L1 and L2.

Unfortunately, the update does not include ambiguity resolution for the GLONASS satellites within the Swift internal RTK solution.  The raw GLONASS measurements are available though and RTKLIB supports GLONASS ambiguity resolution provided both receivers are identical.  This means you can use GLONASS ambiguity resolution if you have two Swift receivers and are doing post-processing with RTKLIB.

I did a comparison between the Ublox M8T and the Swift Piksi Multi a few months ago and found that with only L1 GPS and partial L2 GPS, the Piksi simply did not provide enough measurements to generate a robust solution.   With the new measurements available, along with other improvements they have added with the new firmware, I thought it was time to give it another test.

As I did previously, I will compare a Swift internal RTK solution to an RTKLIB post-processed PPK solution using the Swift data as well as an RTKLIB post-processed solution from a u-blox M8T L1 receiver.   Swift does not provide any tools for doing post-processed solutions so the Swift internal solution will have to be real-time.

My first test was with a static rover to make evaluation of the results easier.  Even though the rover was stationary, I ran all solutions in kinematic mode to get a better sense for the errors.   For the rover I used a SwiftNav GPS-500 antenna mounted on my roof and connected through a signal splitter to both a Piksi Multi and a u-blox M8T receiver.  For the base I used the P041 CORS/UNAVCO station which is the closest station for which I have real time access to through the UNAVCO network.  It is about 17 kilometers away so a long enough baseline to be fairly challenging.  I did run from early evening to late night so the ionospheric errors were not as large as they would have been at mid-day.  There also happened to be about two inches of snow that fell during the measurement period, possibly affecting the result through snow accumulation on base or rover antennas?  Other than the snow, this is very similar to the test I ran previously comparing  a Tersus dual frequency receiver to an M8T receiver.

Let me start by giving my usual warning that these comparisons are only meant to be a snapshot of one users experience and not a comprehensive evaluation of any sort.  Measurement environments vary tremendously and there is no guarantee that other people’s results will match mine.

I ran the test for approximately eight hours.  Here are the rover observations for both receivers, Swift on the left, and M8T on the right.  Green lines indicate dual frequency measurements and yellow are single frequency.  The Swift receiver has GPS and GLONASS observations, the M8T has GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and SBAS.  Both receivers averaged roughly 25 measurements with the additional L2 measurements on the Swift roughly balancing the additional satellites on the M8T.

swift_newfw2

To more easily compare the internal Swift solutions to the RTKLIB solutions I wrote a simple matlab script that translates the csv logs written by the Swift receiver to the format of an RTKLIB  .pos file, allowing me to plot both together using RTKPLOT.

When I first plotted the solutions I saw DC offsets between the Swift solution and the RTKLIB solutions.  I had seen this before in my previous test.  Last time I had ignored the offsets assuming they were coming from datum differences but this time wanted to pinpoint exactly where they were coming from.  Usually it is easier to do these comparisons with relative measurements between the two receivers (ENU coordinates) rather than absolute solutions since the absolute solutions often involve translating between different datums.  In this case though , the relative solutions were giving differences in the z axis exceeding 45 meters!  I eventually traced the source of this error to different origins for the ENU coordinates between Swift and RTKLIB.  Swift uses the rover as the origin and RTKLIB uses the base as origin, causing a rotation of the axis of the two ENU coordinate systems.  Combined distance in three dimensions is the same either way but the distribution between axes changes significantly.

I then switched to comparing absolute solutions using LLH coordinates.  I specified the same base location to both solutions using the numbers I got from the base station location file.  The offsets were still there but smaller now, just a few centimeters.  Eventually I realized that Swift was not using the base location I specified on the settings page but was substituting a slightly different base location generated from location messages in the incoming base RTCM stream, presumably from a different datum.  I switched the RTKLIB solutions to use this base location and this eliminated the DC offsets.  RTKCONV places the base location provided in the RTCM stream into the “APPROX POSITION XYZ” field in the Rinex file header, so selecting “rinexhead” option for the base station location in the config file accomplishes this.

Here are the position solutions for the first hour of the test after sorting out the offsets.  On the left is a comparison of the internal Swift solution to the RTKLIB Swift solution.  The yellow/green line is the internal Swift solution and the olive/blue line is the RTKLIB Swift solution.  On the right is the RTKLIB M8T solution (yellow/green) and the RTKLIB Swift solution (olive/blue).  The large errors are caused by the initial acquires of the RTKLIB solution (the Swift solution had already acquired when I started the data collection) and from me disconnecting the antenna twice to force a re-acquire of all solutions.

swift_newfw1

The Swift solution is re-acquiring after losing fix much more quickly than the RTKLIB solutions.  In these two examples, the Swift solution re-acquired in less than one minute while the RTKLIB solutions required 5 to 10 minutes.  Interestingly, the RTKLIB re-acquire times were roughly the same for the M8T or the Swift data.  Presumably the Swift solution is taking advantage of linear combinations of the L1 and L2 measurements in ways that RTKLIB is not.  Previously I was seeing the Swift solution sometimes take very long to re-acquire (well over ten minutes).  This issue seems to be fixed and the Swift solution now seems to re-acquire quickly and reliably.  So, by this metric, the Swift receiver is a clear winner, provided you are using the internal solution.  For the RTKLIB solutions, the two receivers are very similar.  This might be expected since they are both working with roughly the same number of raw measurements.  I should mention that GLONASS ambiguity resolution was disabled in the RTKLIB solutions since the base and rover were not using identical hardware.

Next let’s compare the relative accuracy of the three solutions.  I will ignore any errors that are common to all three solutions and focus on differences between the three.  To do this I will use the mean of all three solutions in each axis as the “correct rover location”.  I will also only use the fixed points for now, and ignore the float.  First let me show the rest of the eight hours of data in which I did not disconnect the antenna at all.   Again the Swift internal (green/yellow) vs Swift RTKLIB (olive/blue) solutions on the left, and M8T RTKLIB (green/yellow) vs Swift RTKLIB (olive/blue) solutions on the right.

swift_newfw3

Clearly several disruptions are common to all three solutions.  Again, the Swift solution re-converges much more quickly than the RTKLIB solutions.  Given that the disruptions are common to both M8T and Swift receivers, the most likely suspect is the base station.  Sure enough, the base observations show simultaneous cycle slips on multiple satellites at most of the disruption points.  I’m not sure what caused these anomalies but am more interested in the solution responses to them than their actual cause, as they are common to all solutions.

swift_newfw4

The mean rover position was very close for all three solutions, as were the standard deviations for each axis. It is difficult for me to interpret errors measured in degrees of latitude or longitude so I converted the LLH positions to ECEF for comparison.  Here are the results, all in meters.  The maximum deviation from the combined mean was 7 mm and the largest standard deviation was 1.5 cm.  These errors are all small enough and similar enough that I would say the differences between them are probably not very meaningful.

Swift internal: dx=0.003  dy=0.007  dz=0.003
Swift RTKLIB:  dx=-0.002 dy=-0.003 dz=-0.001
M8T RTKLIB:   dx=-0.001 dy=-0.004 dz=-0.002

Swift Internal: stdx=0.006 stdy=0.013 stdz=0.010
Swift RTKLIB:  stdx=0.006 stdy=0.012 stdz=0.014
M8T RTKLIB:   stdx=0.005 stdy=0.012 stdz=0.015

Here are the plots of the three solutions all laid on top of each other, all relative to the combined means.  All three are fairly well correlated, but in particular I find it surprising how correlated the Swift RTKLIB solution is to the M8T RTKLIB solution.  They overlay on top of each other so well that it is difficult to even see the Swift solution but that is only because the M8T is on top, both had roughly the same percent of fixed points.

swift_newfw5

So in terms of accuracy, there is very little difference in any of the three solutions.  However, it is clear from these plots that in relatively long baseline situations like this, the Swift internal solution will fix and re-acquire more quickly and hence would take less time to make a measurement.   This difference would be smaller for shorter baselines where all solutions would fix fairly quickly and be nearly 100% fixed.

RTKLIB does have some additional flexibility over the Swift internal solution, especially in a post-processing situation which could be used to improve the RTKLIB solution, including static vs kinematic, continuous AR vs kinematic AR, and combined (forward/backward) mode instead of just forward.  In this case, probably combined mode would be the most effective choice since it causes the solution to approach the anomalies in the raw data from both directions and minimize their disruption.  Here is the same solution as above for the M8T RTKLIB solution (green/yellow) and the Swift RTKLIB solution (olive/blue) , but processed in combined mode.  It improves both solutions significantly and brings the Swift solution to nearly 100% fix.

swift_newfw6

Overall, the new Swift firmware looks like a significant improvement over the previous version, particularly for real-time applications where time to first fix is most important and post-processing options are not available.

In my next post, I will extend the comparison to a moving rover case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comparison of Swift Piksi Multi to u-blox M8T

 

I recently described an experiment in which I mounted a Tersus BX306 receiver and a u-blox M8T receiver on top of a car and collected simultaneous data while driving around in a parking lot and on residential streets.

In this post I will describe a similar experiment, this time with a Swift Piksi Multi receiver and a u-blox M8T receiver.  In the previous experiment, I had to use a CORS reference station as the base station for the Tersus receiver since I did not have a second full L2 receiver to use as a local base.  I do have two Swift receivers however, so in this experiment I was able to use matched local bases for both rover receivers.  The base receivers were both connected through an antenna splitter to a single dual frequency GPS500 antenna that comes in the Piksi evaluation kit and that was mounted on the roof of my house.

The two rover antennas were both mounted on top of my car.  The Piksi was using a Tallysman 3872 dual frequency antenna and the u-blox M8T was using a Tallysman 1421 antenna, the same antennas I used in the previous Tersus/u-blox experiment.

Here are the raw observations for both rovers, M8T on the left, and Piksi on the right.  Green indicates dual frequency measurements, yellow just a single frequency.  The red ticks indicate cycle slips.  The relatively slip-free region in the middle was collected in the parking lot with very open sky views.  The data before and after this region was collected on the residential streets with more obstructed views and hence more cycle slips.

u-blox M8T                                                                         Swift Piksi

swift_m8t2

As I mentioned before in my earlier description of the Piksi receiver, it uses the new civilian L2C code rather than the standard L2 code for the L2 measurements.  This code is only available on the newer satellites, right now about half of them support it.  Also, the Piksi firmware currently supports only the GPS satellites.  In this particular data set, four of the six GPS satellites were broadcasting L2C codes which meant the Piksi is working with ten measurements from six different satellites.  The M8T, on the other hand, with GPS, GLONASS, SBAS, and Galileo enabled had 19 measurements from 19 different satellites.  In both cases, since they were matched receivers, all measurements were available for ambiguity resolution.

Like the Tersus receiver, the Swift Piksi can only process solutions real-time, it has no capability to post-process data.   I configured the Piksi receiver to save the raw measurements to a USB drive on the receiver and to save the real-time solution in NMEA format to a PC connected to the rover over the serial port.  I set up NTRIP servers for the base stations  and used a hot spot on my cell phone for the real-time data link between receivers as I described in this post.  I then compared the Swift real-time solution to RTKLIB post-processed solutions of the Swift measurements and the u-blox measurements.  I also did run the u-blox solution in real-time and believe it was nearly identical to the post-processed solution I show here but unfortunately I overwrote the solution file with a post-process run so wasn’t able to compare them directly.  I did verify that the real-time u-blox solution had nearly 100% fix before I lost it.  I also tried to re-run a simulated real-time solution with RTKNAVI using the time-tag files but unfortunately it looks like some of the recent changes ported in from the release code have broken this capability.  I need to look into this further but it looks like while attempting to fix some existing incompatibilities in the tag files between the 32 bit and 64 bit versions of RTKLIB, the 32 bit version was broken.  In theory, the real-time solution and the post-processed solutions should be nearly identical, the only difference being the slight delay of the base data over the cell-phone link, so I don’t expect this to have a significant affect on the results.

Given that the M8T has nearly twice as many measurements to work with as the Piksi, I would expect the M8T results to be better than the Piksi and that indeed is the case.  The Swift internal RTK solution did a good job when the car was in the parking lot with nearly unobstructed views as you seen in the middle plot where the zigzag section is all fixed (green).  On the residential streets, the solution bounces back and forth between fix and float.  It is interesting that when the internal solution reverts to a float solution, it becomes quite noisy relative to the RTKLIB float solution as you can see in the z-axis.  The RTKLIB solution for the Piksi data is not as good as the internal Swift solution.  This may be a combination of an imperfect match of cycle-slip definitions between Swift and RTKLIB and RTKLIB not taking full advantage of the dual-frequency measurements.

swift_m8t3

I don’t think there were any real surprises here.  Until the Piksi receiver adds firmware support for the other satellite constellations and until more GPS satellites support the L2C codes, the Swift receiver is going to have difficulty matching the results of receivers with more measurements.  In the long-term, the L2C code is a good choice, especially for moving rovers because it is a stronger signal and a more robust code than using the encrypted L2 code, but in the short term I’m not sure I would recommend this receiver, at least for this sort of application.  It is still the least expensive dual frequency receiver available as far as I know, so it may still be the right choice for other applications.

Like my previous comparison, this was all based on a single set of data and is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis, more of a first impression.  If anyone disagrees with any of this or can add more details, please respond in the comment section below.

If anybody would like to compare the data themselves, I have uploaded the data and the config files I used to process the data to the “Sample Data Set” section of my website.