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U-Blox satellite technology protects India’s forests

Steve Rogerson
September 22, 2016

India’s forests and wildlife are being protected by precision satellite location technology from Swiss company U-Blox.
The company’s M8 GNSS navigation and positioning chip is at the heart of an initiative to protect forests, wildlife and endangered species, and promote sustainable resource development.
The Forest Minister of Odisha has unveiled a locally-developed handheld GNSS device, the Sxtreo T51 PDA, based on the M8 GNSS chip, which will be used by thousands of rangers to protect and manage forest resources. The Indian state of Odisha is larger than most European countries, but 30 per cent of its area is forest, including national parks that are home to protected wildlife, tiger reserves and more than 100 species of wild orchid.
The T51 was developed by India’s Stesalit Systems, which worked with U-Blox to create a handheld PDA for the Indian sub-continent, where GNSS can be enhanced by signals from India’s own Gagan (GNSS-aided GEO augmented navigation) system to improve standalone accuracy down to the 2m range – potentially making the device precise enough to geotag locations of individual trees and animals.
“U-Blox provided the right kind of GNSS chips with the features needed for India,” said Hemant Khemka, Stesalit’s managing director.
The 72-channel M8 chip acquires up to three global navigation satellite systems – Galileo, Beidou and Glonass – concurrently. This makes it suitable for environments where the sky may be partly obscured by thick forest cover, mountainous terrain or buildings. In addition, the chip is flexible and future-proof, because accuracy upgrades and support for new positioning systems or augmentation systems, such as Gagan, can be added via firmware updates even out in the field.
India’s forest rangers and guards will use the rugged T51, which is designed for harsh outdoor conditions, for foot patrol navigation, geospatial validation of forestry accounts, incident reporting, monitoring of poaching and tree-felling, and surveying and demarcation of forest land. The Linux and Android-based T51 provides functions similar to a mobile phone, including communications and a camera, all integrated with the M8’s navigation and location support.
“India is seeing major investments in infrastructure,” said Niyaz Majeed, business development manager at U-Blox. “The government is the largest spender and it is beginning to insist on location-based technology to monitor these projects and its spending.”
The Odisha Forestry Department is already readying its plans to equip 3000 forestry staff with GNSS PDAs so that field offices and the public can keep updated on their work. The department has targeted delivery of the first 600 M8-equipped PDAs to forest divisions this month.