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Are We Too Reliant On GPS? 325

Posted by samzenpus
from the please-don't-take-my-GPS dept.
RedEaredSlider writes "A new report from the Royal Academy of Engineering in London suggests developed nations have become too reliant on GPS systems. The report from the Academy focuses on global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and their vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities include deliberate or accidental interference, both man-made (such as jamming) and natural (such as solar flares). While most people equate GPS systems with the tiny screens which get drivers from point A to point B, the report says society's reliance on the technology goes well beyond that. The Academy says the range of applications using the technology is so vast that without adequate independent backup, signal failure or interference could potentially affect safety systems and other critical parts of the economy."
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Are We Too Reliant On GPS?

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  • by spoon00 (25994) <spoon00@mac.com> on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @05:58PM (#35435974)
    We are also too reliant on electricity, computers, cars, airplanes, ships,...
    • by b0bby (201198)

      But I can't buy an airplane jammer for under $100 on dealextreme... unless you count the green lasers I guess!

  • Let's just fly it all in to the sun, and mate with cavemen!
  • I was cleaning the basement the other day and came across an old compass of mine. It got me thinking, I wonder if future generations are even going to be able to operate the things.

    • I was cleaning the basement the other day and came across an old compass of mine. It got me thinking, I wonder if future generations are even going to be able to operate the things.

      Check with people in your own age group; you may be disappointed with the small number of people in that group who are able to use a compass or find their way unassisted with minimal aids. The number of such people is most probably declining with each new generation, but it wasn't very high to begin with.

    • You dropped the acronym I was looking for, but proceeded not to say anything about it.

      The summary itself says that they're not just talking about GPS in your car or your phone, but the whole GPS system. But GPS isn't the only game in town. GLONASS is the Russian version of GPS, already covers most of the world, and is expected to provide global coverage this year. The EU is building up Galileo, only a couple test satellites in, with the first four operational satellites being launched this year. The Chi

    • by geekoid (135745)

      I got news for you:
      Most of the past generations can't use the thing either.

  • by cvtan (752695) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @06:05PM (#35436088)
    First of all, why are the Slashdot abbreviated comments using gray type on a gray background! This is painful. Secondly, given human nature, if the GPS info is reliable for more than a few days at a time someone will make an app for that... After a while it will end up controlling our nuclear arsenal. It's the same reason people live on the sides of volcanoes. If it hasn't blown up for a while, someone has to move there.
  • He's an inertial nav test guy, I'm a former avionics developer.

    We both agreed that we can understand the financial incentives to remove inertial nav from planes, but that it's misguided.

    You *NEED* a backup in case GPS fails (and dead reckoning has a good chance of leaving you just that -- dead).

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Compasses do not work in airplanes? Maps do not work at altitude?

      • by vlm (69642)

        Compasses do not work in airplanes? Maps do not work at altitude?

        Take a small plane up and find out. Pretty much, the answer is "no". Occasionally, in smooth air, when you're flying straight and level for awhile, you'll get a snapshot fix of where you're probably pointed, within 10, maybe even 5 degrees. Its not quite like on a large boat where it mostly just works.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          I never have tried it. I was actually asking. So how did they do it before GPS and fancy inertial nav?

        • I lived in what was then Zaire for three years back in the late 80s. Flew in a significant number of small planes using visual sight rules, maps, compass, etc. Had some close calls when the weather socked in over a dirt airstrip right before we got there, but for the most part it worked just fine.

    • by DesScorp (410532)

      He's an inertial nav test guy, I'm a former avionics developer.

      We both agreed that we can understand the financial incentives to remove inertial nav from planes, but that it's misguided.

      You *NEED* a backup in case GPS fails (and dead reckoning has a good chance of leaving you just that -- dead).

      Considering how relatively cheap LORAN was to maintain, I don't think we should have retired it. In a war with a peer enemy... say China just for illustration here... one of the first things they'll do is fire off ASAT's at our orbiting assets like GPS and communications satellites. Something other than a compass and a map would be nice to have as a backup in cockpits and quarterdecks.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Thus ruining space for everyone and making me finally realize humans in general are worthless shitheads.

      • GPS sats are too high for current gen Chinese ASATs but that may well change at some point. GPS is WELL above LEO.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        You do realize that type of tactic means they won't be able to use satellites as well, right?

    • by vlm (69642)

      You *NEED* a backup in case GPS fails (and dead reckoning has a good chance of leaving you just that -- dead).

      As you aviation guys probably know, the most likely failure mode is not the GPS satellites being shot down or jammed, but the single GPS antenna getting iced over and cracking or the single feedline falling off or the single GPS "engine" overheating or the DC power to the GPS shorting out or open circuit, or

  • by at10u8 (179705) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @06:16PM (#35436254)
    See the original text of the report [raeng.org.uk].
  • Why does the Railroads need GPS when they they have FIXED TRACK and like 30-40 year old systems for keeping track where trains are at.

  • Star charts? Oh, and a timepiece (your average spring-driven wristwatch will do, I can shoot noon with the sextant to keep it accurate)?

    I've got a slide-rule, if that helps with the math and trig.

  • As an American that has been to the UK (the apparent location of the authors) and has driven around with both a GPS and just a map, I will take the GPS hands down! The signage in a typical UK town is bad. You generally need to look at the buildings to find out what street you are on if you can spot it before you pass it. The roundabouts seem to tell you what town you are going to end up in if you take that particular road instead of what street that you are turning onto. Navigating with a map was painful!
  • A lot of people think of GPS as only positioning, but a lot of embedded things pull time through GPS (either PPS for real time, or 10MHz for use as a timebase).

    I'm sure there are plenty of things with sloppy code that doesn't exactly fail gracefully when losing GPS, especially for long time periods.

    Anyway, another aspect to think about.

  • by macraig (621737) <[mark.a.craig] [at] [gmail.com]> on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @06:27PM (#35436430)

    I wonder whether IBTimes pays RedEaredSlider per submission or per word for his work?

    In his brief time on Slashdot, RedEaredSlider has submitted many dozens of articles; every single one of them references IBTimes and only IBTimes. I could even forgive a little Roland-Piqepaille-like self promotion, but this pattern of behavior screams paid promotion.

    I ask a question in rebuttal: has Slashdot become too reliant on corporate media promoters?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mariocki (788822)

      Yep, another example of the dumbing down of /. the tag line really ought to be changed to 'old news for wannabe nerds, stuff that's paid for'.
      This story hit the BBC at least 21 hours before IBTimes published and, unlike IBTimes, they had the good journalistic principles to link to the original report for us all to read: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12668230 [bbc.co.uk]

  • First, there's no reason why a cell phone tower or an ATM should need GPS data to operate. There are many other ways to get timestamps, and in neither case is the facility likely to move much.

    Anything important should have a GPS smart enough to tell when its data is no good. If you can receive from four satellites, you have enough information to tell if the data you're getting is bogus. Life-critical applications like aircraft should receive from GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo, and cross-check.

    GPS satellite

    • by PhxBlue (562201)

      Also bear in mind that GPS control is very centralized. It's run from Colorado Springs, and if the control center goes down, the constellation becomes inaccurate after a week or so.

      That's not entirely true. Yes, the primary C2 facility for GPS is in Colorado Springs (Schriever Air Force Base, to be precise), but the Air Force has alternate facilities in different parts of the country that they can spin up in less than a day, should the need arise.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        um, then how did Russia use it?

        I suspect there is more then one place that has a control center.

  • we are too reliant on all technology.

    If it all breaks down or stops working, we are fucked.

  • Is the Royal Academy of Engineering in any way involved with Galileo, the European counterpart/competitor to GPS?
  • Three main uses of GPS -- nav, position, and standards (time and frequency).

    I can connect a GPS antenna on the roof to a small box in the lab and have frequency and time references at an accuracy that previously were limited to national laboratories! (search for Trimble Thunderbolt). When the green lights are on, I've got accuracy on the order of ten to the minus eleven or better.

    To the over-reliance claim, when the green lights go off on that box and the red lights go on, I'm back to using the references in each of my lab instruments. More important, the red lights let me know I'm not operating at those higher, known, levels of accuracy.

    The "over-reliance" argument is more an argument against not having a Plan B to put into action when Plan A goes down the tubes. Am I "over-reliant" on electric motors because I use an electric shaver in the morning rather than a straight razor? Or because I use a motorized coffee grinder rather than some manually operated device? No, it's a trade-off, and hopefully one I have made knowingly.

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