Is build-your-own RTK really worth it?

Aaron Nathan
Aaron Nathan

If you don’t already know about Point One’s RTK service (Polaris), you should read this and then learn about our ground-breaking contribution to “precise location.”

First, let’s posit what RTK is. It stands for Real Time Kinematic — it’s a technique used to improve the accuracy of GNSS (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou) signals by using a fixed base station which wirelessly sends out corrections to a moving receiver.

Making your own RTK Base is expensive…

Base station of reasonable quality will be a minimum of 300 dollars and that doesn’t include engineering time or support. Correction services are more cost effective even with relatively low unit quantity.

… and it’s unreliable

Homebrew base stations are a single point of failure. Problems with customer WiFi are terrible to troubleshoot, especially outdoors. Point to point links are complex and expensive and sometimes require regional licenses.

It’s complex

Customers need to put the base station in a clear open sky and many will not realize this means NOT up against a building or shed. They will think it’s like a WiFi access point and be confused by a bad experience. And many users won’t have reliable power sources in good base station locations.

And hard to monitor

Bad performance due to bad cables, failed antennas, grown foliage, failed mounts, bird nests, vandalism etc are incredibly difficult to detect and tell the user to intervene.

There’s poor UX — if there is UX

Users have to do work in order to use their own base station. It deteriorates the magic experience of the robot that just works and it requires significant thought about how to convey the health and monitoring of the station to the user.

Expect unexpected consequences

RTK networks are accurate only relative to the base. If the base is surveyed poorly or moved, it invalidates all prior maps and leads to a poor customer experience. The same is true if the base needs to be replaced due to a failure of the unit.

Lower quality is… lower quality

In an effort to reduce costs, user base stations are made from lower end receivers and antennas. This will make performance suffer significantly, especially in important conditions like against buildings and in tree cover.

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