A few weeks ago, China launched the final satellite in its BeiDou-3 satellite positioning system. Didn’t know that China had its own GPS? How about Europe’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS, or Japan’s QZSS? There’s a whole world of GPS-alikes out there. Let’s take a look.
The entire world has come to depend on satellite navigation systems in the forty or so years since the first Global Positioning System satellites took to orbit. Modern economies have been built on the presumption that people and assets can be located to within a meter or better anywhere on, above, or even slightly under the surface of the planet. For years, GPS was the only way to do that, but billions have been sunk into fielding other global navigation systems, achieving a measure of independence from GPS and to putting in place some badly needed redundancy in case of outages, like that suffered by the European Union’s Galileo system recently.
The problem with Galileo, the high-accuracy public access location system that’s optimized for higher latitudes, seems to be resolved as of this writing. The EU has been tight-lipped about the outage, however, leaving investigation into its root cause to a few clever hackers armed with SDRs and comprehensive knowledge of exactly how a constellation of satellites can use the principles of both general and special relativity to point you to your nearest Starbucks.
The Subaru BRZ (also produced for Toyota as the GT86) is a snappy sportster but [megahercas6]’s old US version had many navigation and entertainment system features which weren’t useful or wouldn’t work in his native Lithuania. He could have swapped out the built in screen for a large 4G Android tablet/phone, but there’s limited adventure in that. Instead, he went ahead and built his own homemade Navigation system by designing and integrating a whole bunch of hardware modules resulting in one “hack” of an upgrade.
The system is built around a Lenovo 4G phone-tablet running android and supporting GPS, GLONASS as well as the Chinese BeiDou satellite navigation systems. He removed the original daughter board handling the USB OTG connection on the tablet, and replaced it with his version so he could connect it to his external USB board via a flat ribbon cable. The USB board contains a Cypress 4-port USB hub. One port is used as the USB HID device to allow external buttons for system control — Power, Volume Up/Down, Fwd/Rev, Play/Pause, and Phone Answer/Hangup. The second port is used as a regular USB input to allow connecting external devices such as flash drives. The third one goes to a reversing camera while the fourth port goes to a USB DAC.
The USB DAC is another hardware board by itself and also includes a Bluetooth module which integrates his phone’s audio and control functions with the on-board system. There’s also an audio mixer which allows him to use the phone audio without having to miss out on the navigation prompts from the tablet. Both boards also contain several peripheral circuits such as amplifiers and DC power supplies. Audio to the speakers is routed through six LM3886 based power amplifier boards. And the GPS module receives its own special low-noise amplifier board to ensure extremely strong reception at all times. That’s a total of ten boards custom built for this project. He’s also managed to source all the original harness connectors so his system is literally a snap in replacement. The final assembly looks pretty dashing.
For some strange reason, the Lenovo tablet uses 4.35V as the ‘fully charged” value for its LiPo instead of the more common 4.20V, so even with the whole system connected to a hefty 12V lead acid battery from which he’s deriving the 4.20V charging voltage for the tablet, it still complains about “low battery” — and he’s looking for advice on how he can resolve that issue short of blowing up the LiPo by using the higher charge voltage. Besides that, he’s (obviously a kickass) hardware designer and a little bit rusty on the software and programming side of things, for which he’s looking for inputs from the community. His introductory video is almost 30 minutes long, but the shorter demo video after the break shows the system after installation in his car. He’s posted all of his Altium hardware source files on the project page, but until he shares PDF versions, it would be difficult for most of us to look at his work.
GPS is a global technology these days, with the Russian GLONASS system and the forthcoming European Galileo orbiting alongside the original US GPS satellites above our heads. [Florin Duroiu] decided to embrace globalism by forking the TinyGPS library for the Arduino platform to add support for these satellite constellations.
In addition to the GLONASS support, the new version of the venerable TinyGPS adds some neat new features by incorporating the NMEA 3.0 standard (warning: big-ass PDF link). Using this, you can extract interesting stuff such as the calculated position from each satellite constellation, the signal strength of each satellite and a lot more technical stuff about what the satellites are saying about you to your GPS receiver. [Florin] claims it is a drop-in replacement for TinyGPS that should require no rewriting. There is no support for Galileo just yet (as the satellites are still being launched: eight are in orbit now), but [Florin] is looking for help to add this, as well as the new Chinese BEIDOU system once it is operational.
(top image: artists’ view of a Galileo satellite in orbit, courtesy of ESA)
The future is the Internet of Things, or so we’re told, and with that comes the requirement for sensors attached to the Internet that also relay GPS and location data. [Camilo]’s MobileNodes do just that. He’s designed a single device that will listen to any sensor, upload that data to the Internet over GSM or GPRS, and push all that data to the cloud.
The MobileNode is a small circular (7cm) PCB with a standard ATMega32u4 microcontroller. Attached to this PCB are GSM/GPRS and GPS/GLONASS modules to receive GPS signals and relay all that data to the cloud. To this, just about any sensor can be added, including light sensors, PIR sensors, gas and temperature sensors, and just about anything else that can be measured electronically.
Of course the biggest problem with a bunch of sensors on an Internet of Things device is pulling the data from the Internet. For that, [Camilo] designed a web interface that shows sensor data directly on a Google Map. You can check out the project video below.
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So you think you’re pretty good at soldering really tiny parts onto a PCB? You’re probably not as good as [Shibata] who made a GPS/GLONASS and Geiger counter mashup deadbug-style with tiny 0402-sized parts.
The device uses an extremely small GPS/GLONASS receiver, an AVR ATxmega128D3 microcontroller, a standard Nokia phone display and an interesting Geiger tube with a mica window to track its location and the current level of radiation. The idea behind this project isn’t really that remarkable; the astonishing thing is the way this project is put together. It’s held together with either skill or prayer, with tiny bits of magnet wire replacing what would normally be PCB traces, and individual components making up the entire circuit.
While there isn’t much detail on what’s actually going on in this mess of solder, hot glue, and wire, the circuit is certainly interesting. Somehow, [Shibata] is generating the high voltage for the Geiger tube and has come up with a really great way of displaying all the relevant information on the display. It’s a great project that approaches masterpiece territory with some crazy soldering skills.
Thanks [Danny] for sending this one in.
Sticking a GPS module in a project has been a common occurrence for a while now, whether it be for a reverse geocache or for a drone telemetry system. These GPS modules are expensive, though, and they only listen in on GPS satellites – not the Russian GLONASS satellites or the Chinese Beidou satellites. NavSpark has the capability to listen to all these positioning systems, all while being an Arduino-compatible board that costs about $20.
Inside the NavSpark is a 32-bit microcontroller core (no, not ARM. LEON) with 1 MB of Flash 212kB of RAM, and a whole lot of horsepower. Tacked onto this core is a GPS unit that’s capable of listening in on GPS, GPS and GLONASS, or GPS and Beidou signals.
On paper, it’s an extremely impressive board for any application that needs any sort of global positioning and a powerful microcontroller. There’s also the option of using two of these boards and active antennas to capture carrier phase information, bringing the accuracy of this setup down to a few centimeters. Very cool, indeed.
Thanks [Steve] for sending this in.