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News Link • Technology: Software

GPS Saves the World — But Who’ll Save GPS?

The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is situated just off Sand Hill Road, nestled in an expansive tract of verdant lawns and trees two miles west of the university’s main campus.

About 150 of the world’s best GPS engineers have gathered here this week, and the subject is war.

At stake are the delicate satellite signals that power the $110 billion GPS market for military and commercial aviation navigation systems, automated agricultural machines and consumer mapping services in cars, to name a few.

The enemies threatening the future of the GPS are many:

Next-generation mobile broadband services angling for a piece of the electromagnetic spectrum relied on by GPS; Cheap GPS jammers flooding the highways, thanks to consumers worried about invasive police and employer surveillance; Cosmic events, like solar storms; Future location technology that will ultimately push those services to places where GPS simply cannot go

“The results will be immediate and disastrous,” kicks off Stanford engineering professor Brad Parkinson, widely known as the father of GPS, while introducing the fifth annual Stanford University symposium on Position, Navigation and Time on Thursday.

Parkinson isn’t just presenting; he’s holding court. The renowned GPS pioneer and former combat airman is on a first-name basis with generals, and has taught the finer points of satellite location for decades. The audience contains a conspicuous number of his former students who have come from around the world to pay homage — many of them now among the world’s GPS elite. Throughout the day, he’ll interrupt speakers with questions from the floor, and each time be received with warm and universal deference.

Right now, though, he is hammering the FCC, and its tepid response to an influential rising mobile broadband player, Lightsquared, that may be threatening the integrity of GPS signals.


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