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What is PNT? An introduction to position, navigation and timing

Blogs June 17, 2024

We know that everyone says this about their industry, but there really are too many acronyms in our space. To the newcomer, or even the industry veteran, the wall of abbreviations and technical jargon can feel overwhelming.

In this blog, we’re starting with one of the most commonly used acronyms: PNT, or position, navigation and timing. We’ll explain what it means, why it matters, and how the world of OxTS and PNT come together.

 

PNT means position, navigation and timing

There you go. Simple, right? PNT is a term used to describe a type of data, or information. At a technical level, PNT data tells you three things about what it is you’re interested in – whether it’s your drone, your autonomous vehicle, or the car you’re testing: 

  1. Position: the place on the earth of your payload or vehicle.
  2. Navigation: data on your position, the position you want to get to, and how to get there. As well as your payload or vehicle’s heading, pitch, and roll.  
  3. Timing: the ability of your solution to “know” the time according to a global standard such as UTC. 

That data, combined, can be used for a huge variety of tasks. Vehicle manufacturers need PNT information when testing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). PNT helps aerial surveying drones maintain their flight path and georeference the data they’ve gathered once they’re back at base. And PNT is vital for autonomous navigation, whether that’s for robotaxis or autonomous fruit pickers.

 

Types of PNT data

In our work with engineers building navigation engines, we’ve seen lots of different types of PNT. To help you wrap your head around the subject, here are a few examples of different types of PNT (and this is by no means an exhaustive list): 

 

Position DataNavigation DataTiming Data
GNSS coordinatesPitch, Roll and HeadingTime (in any format)
SLAM outputPre-loaded map dataLatency
SLAM outputNon-GNSS time (see below)
Differential Corrections

 

If you’ve ever worked with OxTS or with an inertial navigation system (INS), then you’ll recognise lots of these types of data. In a nutshell, the relationship between an INS and PNT is that an INS provides all sorts of PNT data for whatever project you’re working on. Although at OxTS, our INS devices go a little further than others… 

What’s alternative PNT?

“Alternative PNT” is a term that gets used quite often in navigation spaces. Basically, it refers to GNSS-denied navigation data. It’s a little bit of an oxymoron, though, because ANY data about position, navigation, and time is PNT when you get down to it. So, why do people make the distinction?

Historically, the main source of PNT data has been GNSS. The GNSS signal received by your antenna gives you your position and time data, and the GNSS network also gives you differential corrections that are vital for navigation. Increasingly, though, navigation systems need to operate in places where GNSS signal is poor or nonexistent. That includes:

  • Urban areas, where skyscrapers create GNSS signal errors and tunnels block signal entirely.
  • Autonomous vehicles often need to be able to start up indoors with no GNSS signal, then transition to GNSS signal when outdoors.
  • Contested spaces where jamming devices block GNSS signal.
  • Underground environments.

In these environments, engineers are having to find other ways to give their payloads, projects and platforms the PNT data they need to operate successfully. Those methods are what people refer to as “alternative PNT”. Alternative PNT can include QR Code or ArUco marker-based systems (popular in spaces like warehouses), and SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping) systems – these are popular in robotic vacuum cleaners.

At OxTS, we’ve been focusing on alternative PNT for a while now. In fact, we’ve developed lots of exciting ways to use alternative PNT alongside GNSS signal, including:

  • OxTS LIO, which transforms data from a LiDAR scanner into velocity information.
  • The OxTS GAD interface, which enables our INS to accept PNT data from LiDAR scanners, wheel speed sensors, and more.
  • Pozyx2GAD, a specialist GAD implementation that works with Pozyx ultra-wideband indoor navigation technology.
  • Hot-start initialisation, which saves the INS’ last known position and navigation data and uses it to initialise the INS at the start of the next trip (perfect for starting up autonomous vehicles indoors).
  • Non-GNSS time, which gives the INS a time measurement when it can’t get one via GNSS.

 

Read the company brochure…

We have been developing highly-accurate GNSS/INS solutions for over 25 years.

Our solutions are used in a range of industries across the world to provide engineers with accurate position, navigation and timing information in both open-sky and GNSS-denied environments.

Read the OxTS Company Brochure to find out how our PNT solutions could help you.

 

Read Brochure

PNT: pretty neat, though 

Hopefully this blog has given you some insight into how PNT and alternative PNT intersect with the world of inertial navigation and your own work. If you’re interested in exploring how OxTS can help you get the best PNT for your project, in whatever environment you’re working in, contact us using the form below to get in touch.



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