Adding a GNSS Module to Your SBC with Geppetto

November 15, 2019 Zachariah Peterson

GPS capabilities with a GNSS module

Adding GPS functionality to an embedded system is easier than you think

Embedded systems for edge computing, autonomous systems, and other highly mobile systems need embedded navigation capabilities, but adding a GPS module to your next embedded system can be difficult. You’ll need to consider precise layout for GPS receivers in order to prevent signal degradation. There’s also the issue of compatibility with other global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), such as BeiDou. Galileo, and GLONASS. Compatibility is especially important if you want your system to see worldwide adoption.

Instead of producing multiple variants of the same product which are compatible with different GNSS protocols, you can take advantage of an integrated GNSS module that provides universal compatibility. If you’re not in the mood to design one of these systems on your own, you can use the modular design tools in Geppetto from Gumstix to create an SBC with an embedded GNSS module. This provides universal navigational compatibility and saves design time, allowing you to focus on functionality over board layout.

Why Use Modular Design Tools?

Most designers may not be familiar with modular systems design tools. The closest analogy I can draw is to LabVIEW, a popular graphical software tool that provides control over precision instruments and data processing features. With modular hardware design tools, you can take advantage of the predefined, standardized electrical connections between different hardware modules when laying out a board for an embedded system.

This eliminates the need to manually arrange bulky components and route a large number of connections on a board. If you’re designing a single board computer based on a standard COM (such as a Raspberry Pi Compute module), you would need to manually create a footprint and schematic symbol for the COM and import it into your PCB design software. You would also need to manually check the specs from the product datasheet when creating your layout. The same would be said for any other modules you would like to use in your board.

For highly experienced designers, this may be a walk in the park, but newer hardware designers, software engineers, and entrepreneurs may have a tough time getting the job done in a reasonable amount of time. Working with modular design tools allows a designer to simply focus on the locations for their modules and connections between them, rather than focus on routing and layout. Product designers can then mix and match the components they need for their new product with ease.

Adding a GNSS Receiver to an SBC in Geppetto

If you want to add a GNSS receiver to your next SBC, the u-blox ZED-F9T GNSS receiver module is an excellent choice. This particular module provides compatibility with GPS, BeiDou, GLONASS, and Galileo in a single package. While you could certainly purchase this part on your own and integrate it into a custom embedded system, you can quickly create a powerful SBC using the modular design tools in Geppetto and add the ZED-F9T module to your board.

u-blox ZED F9T GNSS module

The u-blox ZED F9T GNSS module

To get started, just open the design workspace. You’ll see a blank board and a list with a large number of available modules. You can drag and drop these modules into your board area. As you add different features to your board, any errors that are made with the board will show up as a red highlight. Geppetto will tell you what you need to add to your board or how to change your board in order to create a working product.

You can locate the u-blox ZED module by typing “GNSS” into the search bar. Currently, you’ll see two u-blox ZED options in the search results.

Blank board in Geppetto

Blank board for an SBC with a GNSS module in Geppetto

I added the ZED receiver by simply dragging it into the blank layout. I also resized the board by simply dragging each edge on the screen. Next, I added a Toradex Colibri iMX6 connector for a COM. This series of COMs provides up to 1 GHz CPU speed,4 GB onboard Flash memory, and up to 512 MB RAM. The next step is to add power regulation, Ethernet, and connectors. My finished board also includes a NimbeLink Skywire modem connector for 4G LTE cellular communication, Ethernet, a barrel connector for 5 V/3 A, and a 3.3 V/1.5 A regulator. My finished layout is shown below:

Modular layout Gumstix Pi Compute board

My finished SBC in Geppetto

The great thing about using these modular design tools is I did not need to worry about any of the required layout and routing issues that can plague many designers. Geppetto also flags the user when any modules are not connected to power, overlap, or otherwise violate some design rules. It took me less than 10 minutes to design my board, which would have taken much longer had I decided to go the full customization route in my PCB design software. The board shown above is immediately ready for manufacturing.

Modular Layout and Design with Geppetto

Geppetto’s online platform allows you to design your customized board from a broad range of fully functional COMs and other hardware modules. All these tools are available in a browser-based design interface that allows you to create fully functional modular hardware systems and quickly plan for production. It’s free to get started and experiment with any design you can imagine.

Take a look at some Gumstix customer success stories or contact us today to learn more about our products, design tools, and services.

About the Author

Zachariah Peterson


Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University. He conducted his Physics M.S. research on chemisorptive gas sensors and his Applied Physics Ph.D. research on random laser theory and stability.

His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental systems, and financial analytics. His work has been published in several peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written hundreds of technical blogs on PCB design for a number of companies.

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