Follow the cobblestone road through the narrow streets of Leuven, Belgium, and you will likely come out to the medieval-looking main square surrounded by a gothic church, lavishly architected restaurants and the breathtaking city hall, ornamented by hundreds of historical statues. Don’t let it fool you — this culturally rich city produces some of the most cutting-edge technology today, right next to the world-famous Stella Artois beer factory. In fact, Leuven was named as the European Capital of Innovation by the EU Council in 2020.
In this city is the headquarter of Septentrio, a manufacturer of high-precision GNSS positioning solutions and a fast growing company. Septentrio’s recently launched products, including the compact mosaic-X5 GNSS module and AsteRx-i3 GNSS/INS OEM board, are further fueling its growth and market share gains.
There is an intricate link between the city of Leuven, its university, and the high-tech industry that results in such a bubbling cauldron of innovation. The powerful synergy between the university and the city makes Leuven unique. Established in 1425, the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven) is one of the oldest universities in Europe. It uniquely combines a very high standard of education with openness and inclusiveness.
This combination of excellence and inclusiveness is rather unique, as most top-quality universities have a more exclusive approach. While ranked as one of the top universities by Reuters, KU Leuven is accessible to students from around the world and actively collaborates with industry players in the surrounding area. At the same time, Leuven’s local government enables and supports the university with housing, student life, events, grants and more. With more than 150 nationalities living in Leuven, the city is a hotspot of diversity in terms of cultural background, experience and talent.
As early as 1972, the university established the Leuven Research and Development Tech Transfer office, to valorize know-how. Since then, hundreds of spin-offs have emerged and settled in the Leuven area, including the Haasrode Research-Park, where 12,000 professionals work today and where Septentrio is situated.
Another important player tightly linking KU Leuven and the industry is the IMEC research center. IMEC is the world’s largest independent research center dedicated to semiconductor technology, housing the most advanced wafer fab equipment and employing more than 5,000 researchers. It has more than 4,000 active patents today. As the chairman of its board, I can personally vouch for IMEC as a center of excellence, with the highest standards for quality, fueled by the most talented post-graduates of KU Leuven and professionals from all around the world. For example, IMEC has recently built a new clean room, totaling 12,000 square meters, operating 24/7 to produce next-generation integrated circuit technology and nanoelectronics. Once a new idea or technology is identified, it is sometimes spun-off as a company. That’s exactly how Septentrio started 22 years ago, and it still works very closely with IMEC as a partner and a source of talent for semiconductor and hardware development.
Another key partner of Septentrio is the European Space Agency (ESA), which enables us to be at the forefront with the latest GNSS technology. From the very inception of Galileo, the European GNSS constellation, ESA has given us the opportunity to be involved as the developer of the Test User Receiver, which acquired the very first signals. Septentrio has also been providing reference receivers for the ground segment of the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), which is Europe’s regional satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS), aimed at providing higher accuracy positioning for airplanes. Working with ESA as a strategic partner allowed us to gain the expertise and insights needed to be the first to market with many key technologies, for example the Open Service Navigation Message Authentication (OSNMA) anti-spoofing authentication on the mosaic module.
Our strategic partnership with ESA and close collaboration with the IMEC semiconductor technology hub has enabled Septentrio to produce mosaic-X5. This compact module is one of the highest performing and resilient GNSS receivers on the market. It is used in a wide array of applications, especially where the position is mission-critical. Examples include a wide variety of autonomous devices, including UAVs that benefit from mosaic’s lightweight and low-power design. The mosaic-H provides accurate heading and is used in applications such as faster set-up and directing of 5G telecom antennas
In short, Leuven offers us an exciting and innovative working environment, as we continue to push out the limits of technology to deliver better solutions to our customers.