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RTK networks for 3D machine control

Why lightening your load when it comes to equipment may be a good idea

Over the last couple of years, the term 'network' has been popping up more and more when discussing 3D machine control applications.

'Network' in this case, refers to 'Real-Time Kinematic Network' or just 'RTK network'.

It is not a new technology as surveyors have been utilizing networks for years. It is, however, a fairly new feature in the world of machine control.

To simplify the benefits of networks to the machine control user: It dispenses of the local base station.

GNSS RTK network for 3D
                              machine control

A base station consists of a GNSS antenna, receiver and radio installed on or near the job site. It broadcasts corrections to the 3D machine control system on the machine. A base station is necessary in order to get accurate positioning information for the machine. You can read more about how GNSS positioning works HERE.

A network consists of many base stations, technically referred to as reference stations in this application. They are set up to provide coverage over a geographical area ranging from a municipality to an entire country.

These reference stations continuously feed their positioning information onto the internet. A server running special network software gathers this data and makes it available in real-time to subscribers. Leica GNSS Spider and Trimble RTKNet are two of the most popular software products for this purpose.

Leica GNSS Spider reference station
The subscriber (meaning the 3D machine control system) connects to this server via an internet-enabled cellular modem.

GNSS corrections tailored for the specific geographic area of the machine is then provided through this connection.

To the machine, it is as if it was getting corrections from a traditional base station nearby.

The benefits of using networks are numerous:

- The user gets a fast, real-time GNSS position, but without the hassle of having to set up a semi-permanent base station on the job site.
A Leica reference station mounted on a commercial building 

- There is an up-front reduction in capital expenditures by not having to acquire a base station for the job.

- The risk of losses associate with theft is reduced since there is less equipment on the job site.

- A local base station is subject to be disturbed which can result in positioning errors for the 3D machine control system. This risk is reduced by using a network with physically secured reference stations and with system integrity monitoring built into the network software.

There has previously been asked questions about the accuracy of networks compared to local base stations when used for 3D machine control. The concern has focused around static versus dynamic applications, meaning a surveyor is standing still while measuring single points as compared to a machine which needs accurate positioning data while moving.

Ask your representative about realistic accuracies that can be achieved with their network solution.

The cost of subscribing to a GNSS network vary greatly, -some are even free. Check with your local 3D machine control sales representative about the availability of networks in the region where you plan to work and the subscription cost.

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