Bad Elf has been selling affordable external global positioning system (GPS) receivers for over a decade, and although they began with a foothold in the aviation market, their catalogue now caters to many categories.
When Larry Fox joined the company in 2016 as VP of Marketing and Business Development, he was looking for an opportunity to evolve their product line into the Geographic Information System (GIS) space, significantly larger than the aviation industry.
At the time, Bad Elf already had a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) surveyor receiver, which was good at what it did, but Fox knew it could be even better.
“My vision was always to have a product that crosses over to GIS and survey folks with the credibility of a survey-grade instrument, and I wanted to disrupt things by changing the structure of how people acquire and use this equipment.”
Problem: How to Reduce Costs to Democratize an Essential Survey Tool and Add a Better Display
The traditional survey rover is typically priced at $10,000-$15,000 apiece. Because this is such a big capital expense, organizations typically buy only one or two. The good news was that there were numerous technology advancements providing Bad Elf the ability to create Bad Elf Flex at a more attractive price point.
“I wanted to democratize the industry to have it be very approachable but still deliver the versatility you need in the field,” Fox said. “To do this, we needed to change the business model. And to do that, we’d also need to update the traditional GNSS receiver to make sure it had all the elements surveyors need.”
Displays weren’t a given in older GNSS tools, but Fox believed that this was an essential element for use in the field. So, as part of this redesign, they’d need to figure out how to provide a display without driving up the cost per unit.
To solve this puzzle, his team loaded up a truck with every display they could find. Most of them were very old tech that had serious limitations:
- Not readable in sunlight
- Poor screen resolution
- Short battery life, thanks in large part to the energy demands from backlights and power-hungry Thin Film Transistor (TFT) displays
“A lot of the older technology we explored with LCDs uses quite a bit of power. We don’t want you to have to lug along a car battery in the field to operate your tools.” So, Fox went looking for a different type of display that would take up less of the Flex’s energy budget.
Solution: A More Affordable Model with an Azumo Display
While thinking about what type of display he needed, Fox’s primary goal was to deliver a receiver that is sunlight readable and low power.
So Bad Elf aimed to create an affordable GNSS receiver that could be purchased and expensed instead of being capitalized. To do this, the GNSS receiver needed to be around $3,000 – as Fox said, “meeting the needs customers demanded.”
Fox knew of one older cell phone display that had the type of outdoor visibility he was looking for, and this led him to one major manufacturer – Sharp. They directed him to one of their display resellers and the source of the frontlit reflective screens he was looking for – Azumo.
With Azumo’s LCD 2.0, Fox finally found a display with four times the resolution of traditional displays that also required almost none of the Flex’s power budget. Even better, it was durable enough for fieldwork and visible in bright sunlight, which suits surveyors’ practical concerns.
Results: A Popular GNSS Survey Tool that Has a Sunlight Readable Screen
Bad Elf is one of the few GNSS manufacturers that has a display in all of its Bluetooth receivers. Because their display is a differentiator, Fox put time and effort into ensuring it met their customers’ needs.
And they appreciate the difference. For example, the fact that the Azumo display uses almost no power effectively adds one to 1.5 hours of operating time to the Bad Elf Flex, which can make a tremendous difference in the field.
“The market response was, ‘It’s about time you guys finally did this,’ and we were glad to deliver the right product at the right price for these folks.”
The new, more affordable product hasn’t just boosted Bad Elf’s position as a leader in the GIS space, it’s also enabled them to engage with engineers, surveyors, and educational institutions to help drive interest in the next generation of GNSS receivers.