Moore’s Law and the next generation of GNSS
Many professionals working in the high technology industries, such as precision GNSS systems, are well aware of Moore‘s Law. This is the observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. Intel executive David House predicts that the period for a doubling in chip performance is closer to 18 months, with each new development spawning several new ones.
Moore’s Law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, who outlined this technology trend in the mid-‘60s. His prediction has proved to be uncannily accurate, and we can see the effects all around us – from cell phone to smart phones, analog to digital communications, and from the advancement from the big bulky GPS-only receivers of just a decade ago, to the smallest, lightest, most powerful GNSS measurement systems available today. Moore’s Law continues to be widely used in the semiconductor industry to guide long-term planning and to set targets for research and development.
Recently, Topcon announced the next generation of its GNSS technology – VANGUARD™ Technology. The advances in signal processing speed, filtering, accuracy and performance truly eclipse preceding technology still in use in many GNSS receivers. Innovations in “board level” technology, which in accordance with Moore’s Law allows significantly more processing power in a fraction of the size, combined with improvements in component technology such as GNSS antennas, provide a level of accuracy and performance not achievable in older technology.
Midway through 2012, Topcon announced the first receiver to incorporate the new VANGUARD GNSS technology – the HiPer SR. VANGUARD incorporates the most advanced, leading-edge GNSS signal tracking and processing architecture available. With 226 Universal Tracking™ channels, the VANGUARD chipset tracks signals from all available GNSS satellite systems – GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and Compass.
Universal Tracking channels have been at the core of Topcon’s industry-leading GNSS technology since its inception, and this patented system is still the industry leader. Other GNSS receiver designs must dedicate a certain number of channels to specific satellite systems and individual signals, requiring more and more channels as more GNSS systems come online. Universal Tracking channels are not tied to one system and signal; any channel can track any signal, the only technology on the market capable of this unique signal-tracking. This capability requires a lower number of overall channels to provide the best available, multiple-constellation tracking capability.
Performance of GNSS in a high-vibration environment (operating on an all-terrain vehicle or other machinery) is a technical challenge. Topcon GNSS scientists have patented an innovative solution to address this problem: Quartz Lock Loop™. This technology provides the highest precision and accuracy possible, even in the most adverse job site conditions.
To get the best results from precision RTK GNSS, it’s not just about how many satellite signals you can track at one time, it’s about selecting the best combination of satellite signals. With more and more satellite systems and signals available, and more coming on line in the future, there are more than enough satellites overhead at any given time. Topcon’s patented Intelligent Tracking Optimization™ technology automatically selects the signals from the best combination of satellites overhead to provide you with the highest precision possible anywhere, anytime.
From a hardware design perspective, other GNSS technology advancements have been made as well. Topcon’s unique Fence Antenna™ Technology provides superior satellite tracking in difficult conditions as well as exceptional suppression of multipath and other signals that could cause interference with GNSS signals. The true separator of precision GNSS systems is not how well they can track in open areas, but how they track in real-life situations with a variety of obstructions. Innovative technology such as Topcon’s Fence Antenna, provides more robust, cleaner signal tracking, which translates into unparalleled fixing.
The development of products like the Topcon HiPer SR will continue to push the levels of GNSS technology to higher and higher levels. From smaller and lighter physical designs to faster, more robust, more rugged and more accurate operation in the field, the speed, accuracy and dependability of GNSS technology innovation shows no signs of slowing. Moore’s Law continues to hold up and consumers of these new, powerful GNSS systems are definitely the beneficiaries.
(Note: According to Wikipedia, in April 2005, Intel offered US$10,000 to purchase a copy of the original Electronics Magazine issue in which Moore‘s article appeared. An engineer living in the United Kingdom was the first to find a copy and offer it to Intel.)