11 things you probably didn’t know about u-center
When we first came up with u‑center, our in-house GNSS analysis and evaluation tool, we thought we were only scratching our own itch. Little did we know that u‑center would eventually become the de facto industry standard for GNSS receiver data analysis on Windows operating systems! Today, almost 20 years later, u‑center continues to pick up new features, driven primarily by the rapid evolution of GNSS receiver hardware.
In essence, u‑center offers GNSS professionals, researchers, students, and members of the maker community a way to make sense of GNSS signals. It renders them intelligible through tables and dialogs, but also visually, e.g. on maps and in charts. u-center also handles the number crunching involved in computing statistics and other quantities that can be derived from received data. It lets users record the full incoming GNSS data stream during an outing and replay it in the lab for troubleshooting. And it makes it easy for them to retrieve and analyze data in a variety of formats.
In this “listicle,” we thought we’d share some of less well-known facts and features about u-center. Even if you’ve read the full u‑center documentation online or are an avid user, you may still come across one or two things you didn’t know about the software.
1: There’s a new kid on the block: u-center 2
If you’re new to GNSS or in the final throes of building a GNSS-based device, you may have missed one of our latest announcements: in September, 2021, we released u-center 2, the next generation of the popular GPS evaluation software. u-center 2 was fully redesigned from scratch to offer improved overall performance as well as feature additions that simplify the configuration, evaluation, and software development of GNSS solutions. With a strong focus on UX (user experience), the software will make working with GNSS technology more intuitive, and fun than ever!
But before you head over to the u-center 2 download page for the installation package, keep in mind that u-center currently supports GNSS receivers built on the u‑blox M10 platform. So, if you are working with older generations of u‑blox receivers, absolutely go ahead and download u-center 2 to get a taste of the software. But you’ll still need to use the original version of software to test and configure your device.
2: Evaluate multipath effects on your receiver
Are multipath effects affecting your GNSS receiver’s performance? Depending on the GNSS receiver you are evaluating, you can use u-center or u-center 2 to test its positioning performance in real-world settings to find out how it responds when satellite signals bounce off building walls, the ground, or nearby mountains.
3: Zoom out to identify satellites in satellite view
While the increase in orbiting GNSS satellites has improved positioning performance, it’s made u-center’s satellite position view feel like a packed room at a party. To see any satellites that might be hidden from view, u-center 2 lets you reduce the size of the satellite marker using a zoom slider, making it simple to see any satellites that are covered up. Alternatively, hover over hidden satellites with your cursor and watch them come to the foreground with a handy tooltip presenting relevant information. And if that isn’t enough, simply filter out satellites or constellations that you aren’t interested in to get a less crowded overview.
4: Personalize your display settings and save them as a workspace
You may have noticed that u-center 2 lets you personalize your workspace by opening and organizing your views to suit your preferences. We went out of our way to make the workspace as flexible as possible by letting you create tabs, rename them, move them around. What you may have missed is that you can save your tabs and their layout as a separate workspace.
5: Scale down your display for more space
This one is more of a hack than a feature, as it relies on your PC’s system settings, but it can make a huge difference: If you are working with u-center 2 and can’t fit enough views onto your screen, head over to your display settings (WINDOWS + S, “resolution”) and reduce the scaling of your display. If you are working with two screens, simply stretch the application across both screens to double your screen real estate!
6: Log in and connect to a vast support ecosystem
To use u-center 2, you need to sign up for an account and log in. But we’ve done our part to keep the process as simple as possible. First, you only need to log in once to use the application. Then, if, when you are logged in to u-center 2, you need tech support, the support portal is only a click away, and you’ll be logged in there too. The only thing left for you to do, is type a public question or open a support case. And finally, being connected to your user account will be a prerequisite to enabling “pro features” that we have in the pipeline.
7: Save time by adding multiple devices
On u-center 2, only one GNSS receiver can be active at a time. But you can save time switching between devices with a simple trick: When you connect a new device, don’t disconnect the old one. Deactivate it instead. That way, next time you need to work with it, it’ll already be listed and ready to go (as long as it’s plugged in).
8: Get help with integrated documentation
If you see an information icon in u-center 2, simply click on it and online documentation, relevant standards, and other related information will displayed right in the window, keeping you squarely focused on your task.
9: Monitor your receiver over the internet
Here’s a feature in the original version of the software that could come in handy: If you need to remotely monitor GNSS data from connected receivers, you can use u‑center to visualize data via a network stream. Simply configure u-center on the computer that is connected to your GNSS receiver to act as TCP server by selecting “TCP Server” from the “Receiver” menu. You can then use u-center to connect to it remotely from another computer over the internet (Receiver -> Port -> Network connection -> New). This is particularly useful if your GNSS receiver is located far away from your computer or if you are a remote member of a development team.
10: Assess your antenna’s performance using Sky View
And one more feature from the original u-center that you may have missed: u‑center’s Sky View functionality lets you measure incoming GNSS signal strength to assess the surrounding satellite observation environment. Average relative satellite signal strengths are plotted in a polar plot, shedding light on potential obstacles that could be hindering satellite reception. Alternatively, sky view offers you a quick and easy way to test the performance of your antenna with an open sky environment. Persistently low average signal strength in the absence of obstacles can be an indicator of weak antenna performance for a specific altitude and azimuth.
11: Stay tuned for more!
If there’s been a single constant over the nearly two decades that we’ve been working on u-center, it’s that the software has never stood still. Now, our focus has shifted to u-center 2, and we have tons of new functionality in the pipeline. Don’t worry about missing out. The software will keep itself up to date automatically.
We hope you enjoy the upgraded experience!