Inexpensive Does Not Mean Cheap

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series August 2019

A revolution is happening in affordable surveying and geospatial instruments and solutions: high-precision positioning has become much more accessible and affordable for existing and emerging end-user constituencies.

Many folks may have found high-precision prohibitively expensive in the past or were resigned to low-precision choices, but now there are a lot more solution developers, manufacturers, and service providers to fulfill the needs of these growing markets.

Simultaneously, a mini-revolution is occurring as many users realize that fit-for-purpose solutions offer tremendous efficiency at realistic and appropriate levels of precision and accuracy.

The code of high precision has been cracked, and while it is of utmost importance that users understand matters of quality, the result of this affordability wave is more choices for all, serving a wide range of value propositions.

Although this wave has been ongoing for a decade or more, it has accelerated in recent years and is expanding in multiple tiers. It has been most pronounced in the world of high-precision GNSS equipment. For other types of instruments and solutions, like total stations and scanners, the trend is not as steep, as they demand a premium on elements like precise machining and optics. In GNSS, the respective high-precision threshold is somewhat easier to reach.

The first wave came in the form of OEM clients for high-end GNSS boards from established GNSS manufacturers. Of the dozens of brands of GNSS rovers, you might be surprised to find out that nearly all use OEM boards from only three of the providers.

It is possible (and some folks have done this) to commission your own brand of rover by partnering with these third-party OEM custom manufacturers and build customized rovers in small runs. Another wave of affordable GNSS equipment is from what some characterize as “second tier” sub-brands of the major players.

Then there is another growing tier: new brands that develop and manufacture their own, high-performance but low-cost GNSS boards and engines. Often these new players seek to supply growing markets for UAS, autonomous vehicles, robotics, and emerging economies in, for instance, Africa. But some are producing surveying and mapping rovers as well. An example of one such firm is featured in “New GNSS Kids on the Block.”

Much of this newest wave of development and manufacturing is happening overseas—in China in particular. In some manner, nearly all of the surveying and geospatial tools and solutions we use are either from overseas or from global collaborations. The notion that just because something comes from a particular place means it is cheap or cheesy is a gross misconception.

Yes, we can all cite examples of shabby products from somewhere or other, but we can also cite top-end gear from the same places (look at your smart phone). Only a few decades ago folks characterized products from Japan as inferior, whereas now that is the origin of many top products of high repute. Likewise, how long ago was it that you hadn’t heard the names Kia or Hyundai?

When it comes to GNSS, some of the key R&D centers and universities graduating GNSS engineers are in places like China. There is no monopoly on high-precision GNSS—and there never really was. Progress and innovation are relentless and widespread.

We could fill many pages with compelling and valid reasons to stick with the top tier of GNSS, but there is also place for the new wave of affordable yet capable gear. We’ll be examining more examples of new options in subsequent issues.

More choices can only be a good thing.

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