Random recollections of GPS/GNSS

September 9, 2020  - By
2000: An Allstar OEM receiver. (Photo: NovAtel)

2000: An Allstar OEM receiver. (Photo: NovAtel)

GPS had been around for about five years before first launch in February 1978 and Full Operational Capability (FOC) was eventually declared in April 1995. It takes time to develop, field and prove something as complex as the world’s first satellite navigation system. But we’re now well into a third generation of the venerable GPS, with GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou and IRNSS/NavIC and QZSS around the world and in geographic locales. So, putting aside Transit or anything else, this would make GPS about 47 years old — heading into middle age.

Therefore, it would seem that Glen Gibbons waited until “this GPS thingy” looked like it might actually work — circa 1990 — to launch GPS World, since the magazine is now 30 years old and is also into its third-generation of editor-custodians! Alan Cameron bravely carried the flag after Glen and nurtured the magazine for a good number of years and brought me into the fold as a contributor. We shared ION GNSS conventions and GPS World Leadership dinners and he was able to cajole monthly articles out of me for many years. Now Marty Whitford has his hand firmly on the tiller as publisher, with Tracy Cozzens as senior editor.

So what went down during these decades of technological advancement and for many of the people in the satnav industry? It would be impossible to answer within my word-limit, so I’ll take on an extremely small subset and recount a few things I can still remember.

µGPS. I got into GPS around 1990 in an OEM board-level product spin-off program from a certified GPS airborne receiver at CMC in Montreal — we initally called that L1 receiver µGPS because then it was a small GPS board. Later it became known as the AllStar receiver. We found pretty neat applications for the early ’90s — golf-course systems, vehicle tracking, airport vehicle tracking, the start of vehicle nav systems and such.

At NovAtel in Calgary in the early ’90s, we watched things develop through L1/L2 dual frequency, began RTK market applications in survey, geographic information systems (GIS), agriculture, mining and all multitudes of attempts to get new companies off the ground.

2013: NovAtel’s WAAS G-II reference receiver. (Photo: NovAtel)

2013: NovAtel’s WAAS G-II reference receiver. (Photo: NovAtel)

WAAS. Eventually the U.S. Wide-Area Augmentation System (WAAS) program came and swallowed us up through three different prime contractors. Once that Federal Aviation Administration program was running well, we were into programs in Europe, Japan, India and China, and that led into Galileo ground reference receivers. The software qualification work we did on Galileo positioned us to take on mil-spec receiver work, and even anti-jam products.

Then CMC bought NovAtel, and we also joined with CMC to develop a certified airborne receiver. In 2003, NovAtel bought the AllStar OEM product line from CMC — funny how things work out! The joint certified receiver program eventually resulted in a new generation of high-accuracy airborne sensors. We again changed hands in 2007 when Hexagon bought us, and then NovAtel began working closely with Hexagon subsidiary Leica on survey applications. Many new and interesting developments are still going on there.

Nowadays, my interests lie with assisted GNSS and with Rx Networks in Vancouver, which I support and advise. Assisted GNSS comes in many forms, has many avenues in the marketplace, and presents its own unique challenges.

As GPS has evolved into GNSS and into so many, many applications, companies have come and gone but the core of people who drive the industry has grown and acquired new and specialized skills, developing ever more capable technology and products. Even after 47 years of the industry and 30 years of GPS World, we aren’t anywhere close to done.