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On the Edge: Sharing GNSS Wealth

March 1, 2010  - By
Workshop participants from Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya assemble a Mindstorm robot to trial autonomous navigation.

Workshop participants from Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya assemble a Mindstorm robot to trial autonomous navigation.

By Patricia Doherty

Last year I helped coordinate a three-week workshop for 50 scientists from 15 African countries, introducing the basics of GPS for applications with socioeconomic benefits and scientific exploration. Held in Trieste, Italy, the workshop was quite successful, producing new initiatives on the African continent. We repeat the workshop next month, 
April 6–24, again in Trieste.

Since the 2009 training, regional GNSS workshops have taken place in Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, and Ethiopia. We have initiated scientific collaborations with universities in Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Egypt, and Uganda, deploying GPS receivers at each institution, with the understanding that the data will ultimately be shared within Africa and the world.

This effort is a way to share with Africa and Africans the wealth that GNSS has brought to the developed world.

Africa’s 2006 Science and Technology Plan of Action states Africa’s commitment to develop and use science and technology for socio-economic transformation and full integration into the world economy. The leading problems that continue to cripple much of Africa include hunger, extreme poverty, erosion of natural resources, and natural disasters. GNSS can help address these problems and ultimately meet the plan’s goals. Specifically, GNSS applications can increase food security, manage natural resources, provide efficient emergency location services, improve surveying and mapping, and provide greater precision and safety in land, water, and air navigation systems. GNSS also has applications in scientific study including space weather, geophysics, geography, geology, ecology, and biology.

Workshop participants included professors and graduate students from Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia. The more than 25 lecturers came from the United States, Europe, and Africa.

Edge-2The workshop integrated formal lectures with hands-on practice in GNSS architecture, signal structure, hardware design, state-of-the-art applications, and scientific exploration. An on-site computer laboratory enabled participants to perform positioning calculations; use mapping and surveying software; plan a precision farming procedure; and analyze atmospheric and ionospheric data — all from GPS measurements. In addition, participants built Lego Mindstorm robots to demonstrate autonomous navigation.

One of the benefits of this program was that scientists and engineers from the United States had opportunities to discuss common interests with African scientists and engineers. Many research programs utilize GPS ground- and space-based measurements. Unfortunately, studies over the African region have not been possible due to the lack of dependable long-term measurements. This workshop opened the door to establishing a base of measurements for joint studies with our African colleagues.

Many lecturers remarked that this was the most enriching teaching experience of their careers. The African participants said that they learned a great deal and were very appreciative of the opportunity to participate in this program.

Workshop sponsors include Boston College’s Institute for Scientific Research (where I work), the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste (where my colleague and workshop co-director Sandro Radicella is head of the Radiopropagation Laboratory), Institute of Navigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Air Force Research Laboratory, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, National Science Foundation, Trimble, and NovAtel.

To learn more about the workshop, participate, or contribute, please contact Patricia.Doherty @

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