Real-time kinematics is a highly efficient, and effective, method of navigation. GPS systems rely on information from a satellite signal to find their way, but RTK systems use instead the signal of the satellite itself. By locking onto that, and using a reference station, it means that you have accuracy in your location down to the centimeter.
That precision, however, comes with a price. RTK systems are incredibly expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars. That cost is not least because the system must be calibrated exactly, or error is very easily introduced. That combination of high price and picky calibration means most of us have settled for the GPS, which is less accurate but good enough for most purposes, and can be made more accurate for military grade systems.
Fortunately, the march of technology means that even the most advanced system becomes smaller, cheaper, and more accessible… which is where Piksi comes in. Built by Swift Navigation, Piksi is an RTK system designed with experimentation in mind. It’s a relatively small chip built from the ground up to be used in everything from aerial drones to automated lawnmowers. It’s more of a toolkit than a tool itself; Piksi is designed to be incorporated into projects that need very precise locational data.
The neat thing about it, though, is the price. While $900 seems to be a lot to pay for a specialized tool, it’s a price breakthrough in the area of RTK tools, and it can be used to, among other things, calibrate GPS systems.
OK, so it’s decidedly for hardcore hobbyists and developers, not the casual gadgeteer. But it’s also a harbinger of things to come. Keep an eye out: As demand rises and people want more precision, you’re going to hear a lot more about RTK systems.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.