Out in Front: From IAIN to 101

December 1, 2009  - By
Image: GPS World


This is one of those mind puzzles that challenge you to transform one word to another in as few moves as possible.

No, it’s not. But it does constitute a journey of sorts. I made it in a few minutes, while listening to David Last give the keynote address at the 13th World Congress of the International Association of Institutes of Navigation.

Departure point: ballroom of the Clarion Hotel, Stockholm, Sweden, late October. Destination: GPS 101, an online webinar for engineers from PNT-related (as in, kissin’ cousins) disciplines, sometime in the near future.

Last described the United Kingdom’s Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN), of which he is president, as “a failing business in a booming industry.” He added that many institutes of navigation struggle with falling membership and declining revenues, if not outright losses. Contrast this with huge satnav growth, and the exploding numbers of  “products that are more powerful, more user-friendly, more cost-effective, every time we have met.” Rising industry, falling professional associations.

My concern here is not the well-being of institutes, but the global technical awareness possessed by engineers and designers from a range of industries whose products now seek to incorporate position, navigation, and/or timing. Phones, cameras, cars, binoculars, road tolling, parole anklets, and so on.

This magazine reaches and educates those far-flung technical personnel, in addition to our readers already working in and supplying the surveying, aviation, military, marine, mapping, precision agriculture, and other more traditional positioning fields. I think we do so very successfully.

But I was surprised by the low level of awareness evidenced by participants in July’s webinar, “The GPS Constellation and More,” with Colonel David Madden, GPS Wing Commander. Presumably attendees came from among our readers and web visitors, but some of their questions were beyond (or below) elementary. Editor Don Jewell, who moderated that webinar, saw the need for a GPS 101 course, and I fully agree.

We don’t intend to compete with companies or institutes offering technical tutorials. Rather, to offer a stepping stone up to those tutorials, and to leverage our free and extensive global reach to engineers everywhere.

Returning to the RIN president for Last words, “What was once a specialized set of professional techniques has expanded into an industry with hundreds of millions of users. Navigation is a unique place where bright engineers — hardware and software — work alongside systems analysts, geographers, surveyors, geodesists, mapmakers, and those who design, manufacture, market, and support navigation equipment, and those who use their products as practitioners. These people are today’s navigators.”

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About the Author: Alan Cameron

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