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Father of consumer car navigation addresses ION GNSS+

September 27, 2017  - By

In-car navigation before GPS satellites — that’s just one of the legacies of Stan Honey, who discussed his life and career during his keynote speech at the ION GNSS+ 2017 plenary.

The ION GNSS+ trade show and conference is being held Sept. 26-29 in Portland, Oregon.

The Etak company was founded in 1983 (and eventually acquired by TomTom.) The Etak navigation system debuted in 1985. Honey described how he was working at SRI International when he went yacht-sailing with Nolan Bushnell (Honey isn’t just an engineer — he uses practical navigation skills in world-class yacht races.) Bushnell founded the Atari company, and created the game Pong (which this writer remembers playing almost as much as Tank.)

Honey explained that Bushnell was impressed by his yacht navigating and his electronics know-how, and wondered if he had other ideas. Bushnell ended up providing seed money for a new firm named after a Polynesian term for navigation: Etak.

The Etak navigation device used dead-reckoning sensors and digital mapping databases stored on tapes to create a device that provided 50-meter accuracy and displayed position as a vector image. Its development resulted in more than one patent, including one for map-matching.

Honey sold Etak to News Corp, and began working for them as a chief technical officer. He create his own R&D department within News Corp, which in 1994 developed a way to track hockey pucks visually for National Hockey League (NHL) games. Long-time fans hated it, but those new to hockey, or casual viewers, appreciated being able to see the tiny puck on pre-high-definition TVs. The puck itself had a tracker inside. Honey was concerned that it might come apart at some point, with only half of it going into the net and causing a scoring controversy. It never happened.

More popular than the NHL puck tracker was the yellow line for the National Football League (NFL). The yellow line indicating first down was the first product of Sportvision, a company Honey founded in 1998. The 1st & Ten computer system has since become standard in college and professional football broadcasts.

The 1st and Ten line displays the yard line needed for a first down during an ESPN Sunday Night Football broadcast.

While it might look straightforward to add a yellow line to a broadcast, it took creating digital elevation models of the fields, which aren’t flat, but gently curved to provide drainage. That means the white yard lines aren’t straight, so the yellow line has to conform to them. A chromakey keeps the line from overlapping players. the cameras broadcasting the games are attached to bleachers, which vibrate when fans get rowdy, so each camera now compensates with a fiber-optic gyro on a tripod, calibrated by Sportvision.

Major League Baseball came next. Baseball officials wanted no part of the K Zone technology, which tracks the baseball — until they discovered it was verifying their calls. In three weeks, the umps became the system’s biggest advocates, insisting it be installed in all ball parks.

Another popular Sportvision product appears in broadcasts of NASCAR races. RACEf/x creates virtual flags above the cars to make them easier to follow. Beginnng in 2001, a Sportvision-developed electronics package has been installed in every race car. A NovAtel RTK receiver and Honeywell sensors tell viewers which car is which. As Honey said, the system “takes something hard to see and makes it easy to see.”

For the Olympics, the company provided a new yellow line, this one marking the record-winning speed or finish. It also dressed things up, such as placing national flags in the lanes of speed skaters. The flags look like they’re under the ice.

Sportvision has won several Emmy Awards for its innovations in sports broadcasts.

Meanwhile, Honey also pursued his yachting ambitions, winning the Jules Verne Trophy in 2010 for the fastest circumnavigation of the world with a yacht. The 2010 America’s Cup winner, Larry Ellison of Oracle, encouraged the creation of LiveLine, a graphics system for yacht racing. A grid of 100-meter lines makes the previously indecipherable course look like a football field, making it much clearer which craft is nearing the finish line.

The LiveLine System overlays geo-positioned lines and data streams at an accuracy of within an inch on live racecourse video shots taken from helicopter and water-based craft. (Image: Sportvision)

LiveLine was first used for the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco Bay in 2013. It uses a NovAtel SPAN-CPT GNSS/INS receiver and a KVH CNS 5000 inertial navigation system.

Honey will be attending the conference, and invites anyone with questions to talk to him.

This is posted in GNSS, Opinions

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.