Expanding Our System of Systems

May 30, 2014  - By

Putting GNSS into use within much larger aggregates of systems shows the greatest promise yet for earthly good. Goodness knows, we have experienced plenty of benefit from GPS applied over 25+ years, from back-up and fill-in provided by GLONASS, and with further synergy anticipated from Galileo and BeiDou.  But we ain’t seen nothing yet. Two presentations this month at the Geospatial World Forum in Geneva show that teamed with other, non-navigation satellite systems and the ensuing big data sets, GNSS leads the way into 21st-century illuminated knowledge and enlightened action. The European GNSS Agency supports many innovative prototypes to drive Galileo market penetration, and the International Centre for Earth Simulation envisions building a Virtual Earth to better understand the real world.

Galileo and EGNOS Seek Market Penetration

Carlo des Dorides, executive director of the European GNSS Agency (GSA), presented experience, results, and a broad call for proposals for future application developers in the “geoSMART + Infrastructure Development” plenary session of the Geospatial World Forum, held May 6–9 in Geneva, Switzerland. The GSA is tasked with market development for the European GNSS programs, EGNOS and Galileo, and its viewpoint is of necessity rosy on user uptake.

In a side note before we look at these market-development efforts, des Dorides showed a figure that I had not seen before, one which claims that signal noise from the four orbiting Galileo satellites is noticeably less than that encountered on current GPS and GLONASS combined solutions. Another piece of the portrait we began at the magazine with post-processing PPP using two Galileo GIOVE and two IOV satellites as reported here, and then using four IOV satellites to do differential carrier-phase positioning as reported here.


chart: Galileo GIOVE

The GSA has funded many small-to-medium enterprise projects, and some of these may actually take off, that is, achieve sustainability through consumer or industry payment. The double edge of stimulus spending such as this is that products may or may not be created, and corresponding business models may or may not be built, with a truly hardened eye towards cash flow. Such a product or service’s only sustainable mode may turn out to be, after all, through government funding. Nevertheless, these are valiant efforts.

To be fair, the primary goal of these projects is to get Galileo and EGNOS into more widespread use, thus encouraging manufacturers of receivers, smartphones, tablets and so on to include Euro GNSS capability in their products. Establishing self-sustaining downstream enterprises is secondary.

Emerging from three successive stages of the current framework program for R&D spending, des Dorides cited “10 Patents or registered trademarks,

33 commercialized products/services, 69 working prototypes, an overall portfolio of roughly 90 R&D projects with a budget of around €70 million.”

“And more is expected!” he added.

Among the GSA projects he singled out for further description:

  • SAFEPORT: Safe Port Operations using EGNOS safety-of-life services for vessel traffic management, with a successful prototype demonstration in Dublin port. SAFEPORT has been in the market since January 2013. As commercial-targeted service, or perhaps a government agency (such as a port authority)-targeted one, this may have a return-on-investment prospect.
  • WalkEGNOS, a social web 2.0 mapping solution with a web site following the social network approach, enabling hikers and bikers to share theirs tracks. This produces “new opportunities for high-quality leisure/ touristic services, and value for search and rescue operations.” I am dubious, myself, as to whether hikers or commercial tour services would pay for such services, but it’s certainly worth the effort (and the government money) exploring the possibility through application development. The service is now available; you must register to use (free of charge).
  • GOLDEN-ICE, applying EGNOS GPS corrections to enhance accuracy for precise salt-spreading for road safety. On the market.
  • INCLUSION, a location-based service offering motor-impaired persons, such as those confined to a wheelchair, improved mobility in safe conditions, helping them navigate traffic safety problems and limited accessibility of public transport. On the market.

Other applications available for use include ASPHALT for high-precision paving, SCUTUM for transportation of dangerous goods, and COSUDEC for surveying of coastal waters. Further programs and results are here.

The Whole Earth

In easily the most mind-blowing presentation of the conference, founder and president Bob Bishop of the International Centre for Earth Simulation spun a vision of Big Data Earth Science, using the world’s largest computing resources (talk of exoflops and exobytes and “the human mind cannot comprehend these large volumes of data” supplied by many orbiting imagery satellites and other sensor inputs) to model the Whole Earth: surface, subsurface, ocean, atmosphere, and social economics.

Earth observing satellites are generating big data sets.

Earth observing satellites are generating big data sets.

The Centre’s mission is “Helping guide the successful transformation of human society in an era of rapid climate change and frequent natural disasters.”

In its prospectus, Bishop writes “The key to solving problems in weather, climate and environmental science is high performance computing. Nature can only be accurately described and computed from equations that take account of complex, non-linear interactions between multiple natural systems, i.e. rivers, lakes, oceans, mountains, forests, dust, pollution, cloud cover, snow cover, ice, polar regions, etc. Such equations of motion are so interconnected and intertwined that they can only be managed when all aspects are held in big memory and computed simultaneously. Only then can we begin to address the systemic risks associated with natural disasters and planetary change.”

The ICES Foundation supports Open Science, which incorporates a combination of open data files, open source code, and open access publications. Much of the data supplied by the following organizations, upon whose resources ICES draws, is either directly produced by or referenced to GPS/GNSS data:

Global Observing Systems Information Center and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric; the European Space Agency and Centre for Space Records; the U.S. Geological Survey; the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the European Union’s Joint Research Centerthe U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research; the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory; the European Commission’s Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE); and many more.

Slides from Bishop’s Geneva presentation are available here. These however of necessity lack some of the video and Flash Player simulations that he showed at the conference, revealing truly a dynamic planet in all aspects.

Bishop warned of both sequential and synchronous collapse of natural systems, leading to cascading crises. His language and message bear some resemblance to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, but Bishop, whose previous 40-year professional career had him responsible for building and operating the international aspects of Silicon Graphics Inc., Apollo Computer Inc., and Digital Equipment Corporation, has assembled some actual practical tools to apply to the many problems.

The immediate goal is modeling, simulation, visualization, and ultimately understanding of the whole, leading to new forms of civic engagement and insights as to risk, safety, food, water, and energy.



This article is tagged with and posted in Opinions

About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.

1 Comment on "Expanding Our System of Systems"

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  1. dosala narsinga rao says:

    Very informative and enlightened me of where GPS and Satellite technology is reaching. I attended Geo-Spatial World Forum 2012 in India.
    I could not attend 2014, but with your article I feel I have attended.
    Thank u.