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Inside the Head of the Body Politic

February 7, 2012  - By
Image: GPS World

In the exciting run-up to Election ’12, we conducted a straw poll of selected voters, giving everyone a chance to see what the electorate thinks about the state of things, and its outlook on the future. This is y’all talking, now: a barely scientific subset of the GPS/GNSS community, the audience at last week’s webinar, “The Challenges of Global Navigation.” The poll results are hardly surprising, but illuminating nonetheless.

Question One. The greatest challenge to realizing new technical capabilities is:

A.   staying ahead of the competition.  4.3% voted for this one.
B.   funding.  34%
C.   meeting expectations of the consumer (user).  34%
D.   establishing standards.  8.5%
E.   overcoming opposition (policy, privacy, regulations, etc..).   19.1%

Few surprises here. The biggest problems are always getting hands on the money to make a product, and then getting someone to buy the product.  The latter, of course, by making the product enough of a value proposition for the discerning prospect to buy.

Question Two. The predominate source of technical vision/innovation is:
A.     Governments.   1.7%
B.     Industry on its own.   53.3%
C.     Industry responding to government requirements.   28.3%
D.     Academia.   16.7%

Most of you out there believe you know what you are doing and are best left to yourselves to do it. Good on ya.

By the way, all the questions here were devised by Doug Taggart, president of Overlook Systems Technologies, Inc., and moderator of the plenary session at the Institute of Navigation’s (ION’s) International Technical Meeting. The ION ITM plenary took place three hours before our webinar, and audience members voted on these same questions. We then adjourned to a hotel room at the conference site and essentially re-presented a portion of the webinar content, interspersed with the polling questions.

The full 60-minute webinar, with presentations by Jules McNeff, VP Strategy and Programs, Overlook Systems Technologies, Inc., and Chuck Schue, president and CEO of UrsaNav, is available for download and replay at (scroll down).

Question Three. Successful innovation is most dependent on:
A.     technology revolution.   11.5%
B.     technology evolution.   39.3%
C.     market demand.   34.4%
D.      project management.   6.6%
E.      funding.   8.2%

The free-market Keynesians out there are exceeded (in numbers) only by the techno visionaries, who believe that technology itself is a live organism, evolving and developing under its own impetus (perhaps aided or driven in part by market demand). Unless I’m putting words into someone’s mouth.

Question Four. Should innovative military capabilities be made available for civil/commercial exploitation?
A.      Yes, always.  The commercial spin-off value is far greater.  31.3%
B.      Sometimes.  When military capability is not compromised.   68.7%
C.      No.  Military capabilities are for military use only.  Every advantage must be protected.   0%

“Sometimes” is always a safe answer. But a coalition of free-marketers and techno visionaries made a surprisingly strong showing, garnering nearly one-third of the votes on an unequivocal up-down issue. This pushback should not be ignored by those in power.

Question Five. GPS will continue to be the world’s space-based PNT “Gold Standard”:
A.    for the next 20 years.   50%
B.    until Europe’s Galileo system is declared operational.   20.8%
C.    until China’s Compass system is declared operational.   14.6%
D.    until Glonass incorporates L1C.   8.3%
E.    it is not the Gold Standard today.   6.2%

At first glance, one might find few worries here for those who design new products with GPS uppermost or even solely in mind. On the other hand, if you combine the four non-GPS gold standard answers, you get a separate but equal body politic.

Mind you, the other 50% are not saying that any other system will surpass GPS and become a new gold standard. The question does not ask that. But it does leave the door open for anyone to conclude that there may not be a gold standard at all at some point in the future — that all or at least a plurality of systems will be equally capable, or that an interoperable, interchangeable GNSS will surpass any single system component.

Question Six. From a user perspective, what is the most concerning aspect of having access to PNT information derived from GNSS?
A.    It is susceptible to interference.   58%
B.    Without augmentation, it does not meet my needs.   26%
C.    It is overshadowing the need for complementary systems that do not have similar shortcomings.   8%
D.    No concerns.   8%

Interference is on nearly everyone’s mind. In fact, those who voted the B or C ticket can also be inferred to be driven by interference concerns, they are just taking their concern a step further by envisioning a solution. Chuck Shue’s webinar presentation (see above link) on e-Loran should be of interest to everyone here except the bottom 8.

Question Seven. Regarding GNSS systems, which is more important to design and field first?
A.      The Space segment (satellites).   21.4%
B.      The Ground Control Segment.   23.2%
C.      The User Equipment.   1.8%
D.      All are equally important, and should be fielded simultaneously.   53.6%

I feel this result is of little use to anyone except the U.S. Air Force, the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, and the China National Space Administration. And I’m pretty sure they all knew it already.

Question Eight. How does a country gain and maintain GNSS superiority?
A.      Create technological advantage (better mouse trap).   25%
B.      Create political/policy advantage (better playing field).   11.5%
C.      Create fiscal advantage (better funding).   36.5%
D.      Create public/private partnerships (better risk mitigation).   26.9%

A majority, but not a thumping one, opts for money.  Another safe vote in almost any circumstance.

David Last, another panel speaker at the morning’s plenary, made a cogent comment when this question was presented. He could understand, he said, how a country might want to gain and maintain military superiority. That’s a question of survival. But GNSS superiority? In this age of interoperability, surely that’s beside the point.

Well, we’ve tossed our chaff into the wind to see which way it blows. Now we must all put our heads down and our shoulders to the wheel, pushing on to Election ’12, coming up  November 4.

But there’s an earlier Election ’12 that takes place September 20: the return showdown between the Satellite Party and the Signal Party. The Reds and the Blues. They last contested, you may or may not remember, in the previous election year, 2008; Put to a Vote, GPS World’s Leadership Dinner — held during ION-GNSS 2008 in Savannah, Georgia — convoked a lively debate: Would the community gain more from new signals, or from more satellites? A made-up scenario that elicited important insights.

The Satellite Party has been in power since its ’08 victory. Are you better off now than you were four years ago? We will return to the hustings in Nashville during ION-GNSS, as again GPS World hosts GNSS Election ’12.

Given the current tenor of debates around the country and around the world, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing from the Occupy GPS movement as well as the two frontrunners.

This article is tagged with , , and posted in Opinions

About the Author:

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

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