A Grand Re-Entrance

April 1, 2010
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The new ProFlex Lite Duo is a dual GNSS board sensor designed for heading, relative positioning, and long-range RTK computations.


When Magellan Professional announced in January 2010 that it had changed its name to Ashtech, few in the surveying and mapping professions were surprised. The Ashtech name has long been associated with high-quality GNSS equipment. It made sense that the company would return to its roots after Magellan sold its consumer products division to MiTAC International Corp. in January 2009.

What many people might not know is that the transition had been more than three years in the making. In 2007, the company was reorganized into two distinct business units−Consumer and Professional. “As part of Magellan Professional, we had our own engineering, operations and supply chain,” explains François Erceau, vice president and general manager of Ashtech. “We’ve spent the last three years laying the groundwork through extensive R&D. As Ashtech, we’re now able to build on that groundwork through new product introductions and business initiatives.”

The new ProMark 500 V4.0 GNSS receiver is designed for high-performance RTK surveying.

Indeed, the company launched four new products in the first two months alone. The January release of the ProMark 500 V4.0 GNSS receiver, which includes an RTC bridge to relay GSM/GPRS RTK network corrections to multiple rovers through license-free radios and a new entry-level configuration delivering free RTK capability within 3-kilometer baselines, was followed by the February introduction of the ProFlex Lite and ProFlex Lite Duo GNSS board sensors for complex mobile positioning and navigation. A few weeks later, Ashtech debuted a new suite of GIS and mapping software for the MobileMapper 6 professional GPS/GIS handheld receiver. (See New & Notable on page 48 for more details on the new software.)

According to Erceau, that’s just the beginning. “There will be more announcements in the coming weeks and months,” he says. “With all the changes that are happening and about to happen in Glonass and Galileo, and maybe also Compass, there are a number of opportunities to innovate and create new benefits for customers.”

Erceau says Ashtech will continue to focus on innovations in surveying and GIS applications while also pursuing new developments in areas such as agriculture, engineering and machine control. He believes that the continued advancement of GNSS technology will provide new opportunities as GNSS-based solutions become more precise and more productive. “We’re committed to GNSS--both at the entry-level, where we’ve been able to maintain strong relationships with our handheld receiver manufacturing partners, and at the high-end part of the spectrum, where we plan to bring engineering and design innovation to the different constellation systems,” Erceau says. “The GNSS evolution will make the coming years very interesting.

“We are very happy to revert to the Ashtech brand and to introduce new products under this brand. We believe this change is positive for us as well as for the market as a whole.”

For more information about Ashtech, visit www.ashtech.com.

-INTERVIEW WITH FRANÇOIS ERCEAU: A POB WEB EXCLUSIVE

POB: When and why did Magellan Professional decide to revert back to the Ashtech name?

Erçeau: We were part of Magellan Corporation between 2006 and 2009. In Magellan there were two divisions-the consumer division and the professional division. When the consumer division of Magellan was sold to MiTAC in January 2009, part of the sale included the Magellan brand. We could have kept the Magellan Professional name for three years, but we understood that it would be difficult to differentiate ourselves. Magellan was connected more and more to the MiTAC brands on the consumer side, and that was not where our strengths were. So we knew we needed to change brands. The question was which one to choose.

As we looked at the different options, we saw that the equity we had with the Ashtech brand was huge, so we decided we should leverage that. There was also an expectation from the market-the customers and channels-that we would use the name again because it’s a strong name and has a great reputation in the professional market. We are obviously very happy to revert to the Ashtech brand and to introduce new products under this brand. We believe this change is positive for us as well as for the market as a whole.

POB: The Ashtech company was started by Javad Ashjaee in the late 1980s. Does the name change indicate a renewed partnership or relationship with Ashjaee?

Erçeau: Although Javad was involved with the initial steps of the company nearly 25 years ago, he no longer has any involvement. But we kept the Ashtech brand as part of the assets of the company.


POB: Have any changes occurred within the organization beyond the name change? Will distribution channels remain the same? Will customers notice any differences in the company’s operations?

Erçeau: Each division in Magellan was empowered to make its own decisions. This was very good for the professional division because we were able to get our own engineering and operations and supply chain. So the groundwork has been laid in the last three years, and now is the time when we can show to the market all those benefits. So is this a big change in terms of customers, channels, operations? No-all of that will remain the same. But we’re now able to build on the existing groundwork through new product introductions and business initiatives.


POB: What are the primary areas of focus for Ashtech? Does this reflect a change from the past few years?

Erçeau: Ashtech is primarily connected to professional GNSS technology and we benefit from our experience in this field. As part of the Thales Group, for example, we started quite early on pursuing new GNSS design activities, and we made a lot of progress with entry-level systems as Magellan Professional. We’ve developed very nice handheld solutions-the ProMark 3 and MobileMapper 6 products. So in a way we’re unique in our story because we have been able to leverage contributions from our different experiences. We remain committed to GNSS, both at the entry-level, where we’ve been able to maintain strong relationships with our handheld GPS receiver manufacturing partners, and at the high-end part of the spectrum, where we plan to bring engineering and design innovation to the different constellation systems. That’s all part of our roadmap and our focus for the foreseeable future.


POB: What products are you most excited about right now, and why?

Erçeau: Recently, we’ve embarked on an ambitious path of new product introductions. As we reintroduced the Ashtech brand in January, we also introduced an updated version of our ProMark 500 product that was a high-end GNSS solution for survey applications. And in that announcement, we pointed out a number of innovations for surveyors, including, better RTK accuracy and range, and improved affordability for local surveying applications.

At the end of January, we introduced a completely new sensor line for OEM and machine applications: the ProFlex Lite and ProFlex Lite Duo. This line is for system integration aboard boats,  machines, and any kind of dynamic surveys vehicles. The ProFlex Lite product is a single-board product with RTK capability. And the ProFlex Lite Duo comes with two boards, with the possibility to do not only single-point positioning but also relative positioning and heading. This is an interesting development for machine control, agriculture and other applications.

In February, we introduced a completely new suite of software for our GIS range: MobileMapper Field and MobileMapper Office. This marks the first mobile mapping software from Ashtech. It will be used today for MobileMapper 6 and tomorrow for a complete new range of mapping devices.

That was three major announcements within the first six weeks of our rebranding. And there will be more announcements in the coming weeks and months. With all the changes that are happening and about to happen in Glonass and Galileo, and maybe also Compass, there are a number of opportunities to innovate and create new benefits for customers.


POB: What software developments are on the horizon?

Erçeau: We have our own software packages, which primarily address what we define as easy-to-use/easy-to-operate solutions. We want our products to come with a very intuitive and comprehensive user interface. This is what we do with our MobileMapper and ProMark3 products and explains our new suite of solutions, MobileMapper Field and MobileMapper Office. We want to expand from there because we believe there are plenty of new users today who come to GNSS from other backgrounds and need an easy solution with a small learning curve. We also recognize that there are more-demanding and more-qualified users, and so we continue to have a strong partnership with Carlson Software to develop software for high-end survey solutions. And in GIS, we have a good relationship with ESRI, and we offer ArcPad on our MobileMapper products at different levels.


POB: What opportunities do you see emerging in the near future for the surveying and mapping professions, and how does Ashtech plan to address these new markets?

Erçeau: I believe the GNSS evolution will make the coming years very interesting. GNSS modernization-L2C, L5, Galileo and so on-will create opportunities in the market for changes in equipment as GNSS-based solutions become more precise and more productive.

GIS is getting used more widely and it’s becoming easier and easier to use GIS products; workflows are getting simpler from the field to the office. There is a great move to connectivity, and synchronizing data back and forth from the field to the office is becoming common. Another interesting trend is the move to more automated processes, and that’s something we are looking at and where we believe there will also be new opportunities for us.

2010 will see a number of product introductions from Ashtech that will build on what we have been doing already-focusing on survey and GIS applications. But we will also look at side segments where GNSS is getting more penetration, such as agriculture, engineering and machine control applications, and others where there are growth opportunities either directly or through partnerships.

We are very optimistic, and we think Ashtech is not only good news for us as a company and our people, but also very good news for the professional community overall.

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