Digital Compass Communication Modes

Sparton Inertial Sensors can communicate in many different ways. Sparton sensors support Legacy NATIVE, Legacy NMEA, Remote Function Select (RFS), as well as Sparton’s proprietary NorthTek™. Sparton compasses, AHRS, and inertial sensors can support all of these formats simultaneously without any need to switch communication modes. However, selection of the best communication format for your application can be difficult without a clear understanding of the intent of each format.

The NATIVE and NMEA communication protocol modes are legacy formats that were ported over from the Sparton’s older SP3000 series compass. They were expanded to allow some access to the latest features of newer compass products, but be aware that not all functions are supported. These communication modes are for applications that need backward compatibility to the SP3000 series compasses to minimize impact to an existing design. NATIVE mode is a very simple, compact, binary format that allows the host processor to query compass orientation with a minimal amount data transferred. NMEA is used for applications that require a NMEA-0183 formatted, text-based bi-directional communication.

Remote Function Select (RFS) is a binary format that is more structured than the legacy NATIVE mode. It allows for complete control of all compass parameters. Some benefits to this protocol are efficient high rate communications, future compatibility, robust error checking, and full access to database variables within the compass. This is the preferred method of communication to Sparton navigation products for new designs.

Sparton NorthTek™ is an embedded programming language within the compass that uses a customized FORTH syntax. It allows for user-programmability – a revolutionary feature not seen on a navigation product before. Within NorthTek™, you can create programs, custom commands, custom output formats and so much more. The NorthTek™ protocol is intended to be used for laboratory R&D, manufacturing test, access to raw sensor data, custom installation and alignment, real-time adaptation, and bandwidth control (and can be used in conjunction with RFS).

Sparton’s Inertial Sensor and AHRS products offer flexibility within your design. Whether you need backward compatibility, robust communications, or programmability, Sparton has the solution.


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