Positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) technologies are increasingly vital for economic stability and growth. In 2017, London Economics calculated that a 5-day outage of the world’s global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) would cost the UK economy around £1bn per day. The UK government itself estimates that about 17% of the country’s non-financial business GDP is now reliant on satellites.
With dependence on PNT increasing, there is a growing need for ubiquitous coverage and more resilient PNT technologies. Satellite-based PNT does not always work well indoors, for example, and under-protected PNT equipment and applications can be compromised by deliberate or accidental interference.
Further innovation is therefore required, and the UK, with its world-class expertise in satellite technology R&D and systems engineering, is well placed to step up to that challenge.
PNT sector priorities for 2023 and beyond
With that in mind, in November 2022 Spirent brought together 110 delegates from UK government, industry, academia and key user communities at a PNT Leadership seminar, hosted by the Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN) and featuring a keynote speech from RIN Director John Pottle.
“Resilient positioning and timing systems are now recognized the world-over as a requirement for critical infrastructure and for new growth areas such as connected autonomous vehicles. We decided to host this inaugural event to bring together the many pockets of deep expertise across the UK to discuss opportunities for innovation and collaboration towards leadership and growth.” – John Pottle, Director, Royal Institute of Navigation
The aim of the seminar—which Spirent’s Martin Foulger discussed in this blog—was to explore the economic benefits of resilient PNT leadership and to develop a view of approaches, priorities, and next steps.
A dedicated partnership program for industry and academia
One priority, voiced by many delegates, was a call for greater collaboration between industry and academia. And it’s a call that we at Spirent have been delighted to answer. As a follow-up to the PNT Leadership seminar, we have deepened our commitment to collaborating with academia, expanding the Spirent Academia Program to deliver more support and accelerate research and innovation in emerging PNT technologies.
The program aims to facilitate collaboration with universities across a range of research, product development and product innovation partnerships. By combining our 30+ years’ industry experience with cutting-edge research being conducted at universities worldwide, we can collectively enhance knowledge in the PNT space and enable technological advancement and growth.
“We have many possible futures but they all share one certainty – that our need for accurate and reliable PNT will increase. That means we will need diverse skills across industry and academia, with committed, visionary leaders, if we are to realize our long-term ambitions." – Professor Cathryn Mitchell, Centre for Space, Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, University of Bath
Valuable industry resources available to institutions and researchers
The program makes a range of leading industry resources available to academics and researchers working on developing the next generation of PNT technologies.
There are three partnership tiers to choose from, each providing access to Spirent technology, resources and expertise. Within the tiers, each partnership is tailored to the specific institution and research project, with a view to providing the best support for the research being undertaken.
The Bronze partnership makes Spirent’s SimGNSS software suite available to universities, individual students, and group projects to introduce them to Spirent equipment and the art of scenario simulation.
The Silver partnership provides opportunities to work closely with industry-leading Spirent engineers on a range of collaborative research projects. With opportunities for joint publication and applied research projects, the silver partnership provides industry support and sponsorship to help students excel in their Masters, PhD or post-doctoral research.
The Gold partnership provides an opportunity to host a sponsored Spirent lab within the partner university’s faculty – with researchers working side by side with Spirent’s engineering team to take advantage of the newest developments in PNT test and measurement.
“Continuing to strengthen the relationship between academia and industry is key to the evolution of the PNT sector. The Spirent Academia Program is part of ensuring we continue to connect cutting-edge research and product commercialization, helping us to bring innovative PNT test and assurance solutions to market.” – Martin Foulger
Current partnerships focus on machine learning in navigation
A number of academic partnerships and collaborative projects are currently exploring emerging technologies as part of the Spirent Academia Program, including:
Machine learning for autonomous navigation: Dr Ze Ji of Cardiff University is spending 50% of his time working with Spirent in a two-year Gold partnership. We are supporting Dr Ze’s project to develop a robust and adaptive localization framework to allow autonomous systems to learn to navigate reliably in GNSS or GNSS-denied environments using state-of-the-art machine learning techniques.
Indoor robot navigation: Spirent is sponsoring PhD student Fraser McGhan at Cardiff University in a Silver partnership. We provide an industry supervisor, as well as other direct and in-kind contributions, to support the student’s research into indoor robot navigation using simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) techniques and deep reinforcement learning.
An annual event to celebrate and facilitate PNT breakthroughs
The Spirent Academia Program includes an annual Academia Forum, with the inaugural event hosted in November 2022 at Cranfield University’s DARTeC centre, a UK leader in digital aviation research.
The event brought together universities from as far afield as Malaysia and California, to celebrate their research and innovation, facilitate connections, and showcase research breakthroughs.
As well as providing opportunities to explore partnerships with Spirent, the Academic Forum also enabled institutions to share knowledge and support each other’s research—all with the goal of bringing new robust, resilient and assured PNT innovations into the industry.
Talk to us about joining the Spirent Academia Program
With the Spirent Academia Program continuing to grow, and the 2023 Academia Forum already in development, this is a great time for students, universities and research institutes to get involved.
If you’d like to know more, or if you’d like to discuss a potential partnership, please do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.