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The rearview camera and the head-up display

January 24, 2024  - By
Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio

On December 5, in Houston, at a reception hosted by the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation to celebrate GPS’ 50th anniversary, I had the honor of publicly interviewing Dr. Bradford Parkinson for 45 minutes. When I asked him how GPS today differs from the design that emerged from the Lonely Halls meeting he chaired 50 years ago this past September, he replied, proudly, that “there is no fundamental difference.” Recently, he recalled, he pulled out for the first time in 20 years a handheld Trimble EnsignGPS — “It was one of those little devices that got shipped to the Iraq War,” he noted —, cleaned its contacts, changed its batteries, turned it on, and was immediately able to navigate. “The point of the story,” Parkinson said, “is that evidently it still works.”

When I asked him what he considered to be the most significant impact of GPS on society, he said it was “also probably the most perilous: kids today just take it for granted. They know where they are.”

Taking GPS for granted, however, is not limited to kids today. It is a pervasive attitude throughout our society, including sectors of the federal government that ought to know better. That is why a recurrent theme throughout the 29th meeting of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Advisory Board, on December 6 and 7, which I attended, was raising the alarm about the fact that GPS is falling behind Galileo and BeiDou.

“We must attack this mindset [that GPS is] the Gold Standard and everything is OK. It is not OK,” said Admiral Thad Allan, a former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, who chairs the PNT Advisory Board. Perhaps, he suggested, it is time to declare that GPS is only meeting “the Pewter Standard” for GNSS. “That will get the attention of somebody who does not understand this.”

Parkinson, in emphasizing the urgency of the problem, said that he currently counts eight areas in which GPS is falling behind its GNSS counterparts, including:

  • L5, the go-to signal particularly for civilian aviation, is not yet activated and will not be until the next three satellites are activated, which will likely not happen for at least another year.
  • The Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX), the future version of the GPS control segment, is not yet operational.
  • GPS does not have a satellite-based high-accuracy service (HAS). On this, he said, “Everyone is moving out except us.”
  • GPS lacks anti-spoofing authentication, which Galileo has.

Additionally, “every one of these things has an enormous lead time,” Parkinson warned.

“As an advisory group, we are only as effective as the willingness of the system that we are advising to act on what we say,” Allan pointed out. The Advisory Board spent the final portion of its meeting discussing how to structure the agenda and products of its next couple of meetings to get these issues with GPS the attention they deserve and require. Stay tuned.

Click to watch the full interview 

Matteo Luccio | Editor-in-Chief

mluccio@northcoastmedia.net

About the Author: Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio, GPS World’s Editor-in-Chief, possesses more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for GNSS and geospatial technology magazines. He began his career in the industry in 2000, serving as managing editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World, then as editor of Earth Observation Magazine and GIS Monitor. His technical articles have been published in more than 20 professional magazines, including Professional Surveyor Magazine, Apogeo Spatial and xyHt. Luccio holds a master’s degree in political science from MIT. He can be reached at mluccio@northcoastmedia.net or 541-543-0525.