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Chapter 8, Looking Ahead
LOOKING AHEAD: IMPACT OF GPS
There is no question that GPS will have a profound effect upon everyone. In fact, it would not be at all surprising if our letterheads soon include our MGRS/UTM grid coordinates as well as our telephone and fax numbers, street addresses, and zip codes.
We increasingly read and hear about GPS in the news as its applications become more extensive; but we are also beginning to encounter it as part of our culture through entertainment and literature. GPS is being mentioned in comic strips, on prime time television and in the soaps, and it is presently finding its way into some first-rate films and best-sellers. For example, award-winning mystery writer Patricia Cornwell in a recent book (Unnatural Exposure, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1997) has her central character, Virginia's chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta, learn from a local Richmond area landfill employee that they can now track garbage. "A satellite system that uses a grid. We can at least tell you which trucks would have dumped trashduring a certain time period in the area where the body was found."
A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE
Evidence of the ever-expanding applications of GPS abound. In addition to the navigation aids, precise surveying capabilities, and vehicular tracking and reporting systems already mentioned, we now regularly encounter the use of GPS across a broad spectrum of activities. They include such undertakings as managing agricultural planting and fertilizing, tracking bird migrations and other wild animal movements, measuring the earth's tectonic plate slippages, creating a spatial inventory of the various components of our vast utilities infrastructures, the covert tracking of people and equipment for espionage and law enforcement purposes, recording the movements of convicted probationers, and determining the whereabouts of lost children.
Furthermore, people are using GPS to assist them in selecting clubs on the golf course, managing and accurately mapping archeological digs, and even recreating historical events. See the article in the October 7, 1997, issue of GPSWorld, entitled "Victorio's Escape" describing a century-old cavalry battle between Buffalo Soldiers under the command of Captain Henry Carroll and the Chihenne Apaches being led by Chief Victorio back in the waning days of the wild, wild west. The point being that our imaginations seem to be the only limiting factors when it comes to the applications awaiting this great new technology.
We are entering a world where cellular telephones will report our locations to 911 dispatchers and courts accept the time, date, and/or position stamps of the GPS on photographs and other recorded information as legal evidence. Some "leading edge" catalogs already feature clocks that receive their controlling signals from the highly accurate and very expensive atomic clocks aboard the GPS SVs orbiting the earth. Often, manufacturers making use of the system's time and position applications don't even bother to mention to their customers that it is the GPS which enables their products to function with such accuracy.
Soon, GPS will assist us in sorting through various computerized "yellow pages" and other kinds of directories by providing those listings that meet proximity requirements to either our present position or some other user-selected location. And, of course, GPS will significantly affect the way the military conducts war. The spatial aspects of command, control, communications, intelligence, fire control, "smart" munitions guidance, and logistical functions will ultimately be monitored and handled with the aid of GPS through various communications/ computer information networks that make complex and comprehensive real-time decisions possible on the battlefield. Naturally, commercial transport, manufacturing, and various private sector logistical operations will soon be handled in a similar fashion.
Through various aspects of modern technology, including the GPS, a company's control over its means for production can now reach far beyond the walls of its own facilities to anywhere in the world. It is now possible to manage the flow of raw materials, components, and subassemblies through a myriad of suppliers, subcontractors, and shippers to finished products, as never before.
Finally, it is already apparent that various GPS applications will make further inroads into what is being called the field of "intelligent transportation." This encompasses the means for the elimination and/or avoidance of heavily congested areas, the development of enroute guidance systems, and the creation of safety backups for the decisions we make and the actions we take while driving a motor vehicle. In other words, we are talking about the rather rapid evolution of "smart" highways and vehicles.
Without a doubt, the most exciting news in recent years regarding GPS was the 1996 announcement by the White House that the United States Government intends "to terminate the current practice of degrading civil GPS signals [selective availability] within the next decade..." The press release detailing this announcement goes on to reaffirm "U.S. commitment to providing basic GPS services, free of direct user fees, for peaceful, civil, commercial, and scientific users throughout the world." The Administration expects this announcement will add 100,000 jobs to the economy and spur growth of the GPS market from $2 billion to $8 billion in the four years between 1996 and 2000.
The highest priorities for further refinement of the technology will most likely focus on 1) further miniaturization, 2) improved signal reception (particularly in areas of heavy vegetation and within the "street canyons" of our cities), and 3) reduced power drain/increased battery life. Obviously, now that manufacturers have broken the "$100 barrier" on their "leanest" models, prices can not be significantly reduced. It is interesting to recall that, according to Motorola vice president Robert Denaro, "...the first commercial GPS receiver was built by Texas Instruments, cost $153,000, and was about the size of the overhead projector. And it drew about as much power. Today, GPS chipsets are significantly under 50 bucks."
Before closing this discussion on the future, there must be at least a passing reference to the geopolitical aspects of the system. While everyone from the Japanese to the French have voiced a concern about the control the Americans and Russians now enjoy over the most advanced and accurate world-wide navigation systems, there appears to be no plan to design a completely new system in the short term. Some European nations have talked about establishing a civil European Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS1) which consists of the integrated use of both the U.S. GPS and Russian GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) along with four Imarsat-3 satellites to provide correction signals for both GPS and GLONASS data. The second phase being discussed, GNSS2, might at some undefined future date consist of an independent satellite navigation system designed and funded by as of yet undetermined sponsors.
In answer to the obvious question; yes, there are currently some commercial products available that use the signals from the Russian GLONASS system to calculate positions and guide navigation. In fact, there are civilian receivers on the market that utilize signals from both GPS and GLONASS, which, when averaged, provide accuracies superior to those possible when using either system independently. The up side for the use of GLONASS is that the Russians do not now nor do they intend to degrade their signals as does the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). On the down side, however, GPS is more accurate (discounting SA) and both GLONASS and the dual-system receivers are far more expensive (far fewer having been manufactured) than the comparable GPS equipment. Finally, GLONASS was designed, established, and funded by the former Soviet Union to support its cold war military objectives. The fundamental question now facing Russia is whether its military establishment can continue to maintain this expensive system during difficult economic times when it is unable to pay its soldiers their wages.
The July 1997 issue of GPS World compares the accuracies attained by the GPS and GLONASS systems. According to the article, MIT's Lincoln Laboratory (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) made the following observations on May 24, 1997:
GLONASS 95% horizontal errors of 21.2 and vertical errors of 39.1 meters (no degradation)
G P S 95% horizontal errors of 48.1 and vertical errors of 81.7 meters (w/SA)
GPS+GLONASS 95% horizontal errors of 14.9 and vertical errors of 41.8 meters (w/SA)
This new technology is going to have a profound impact upon our daily lives in ways too numerous to imagine. Some are just now beginning to emerge while others remain completely unforeseen and unexpected. Before this decade began, GPS was virtually unheard of and completely untested outside the scientific community. By January of 1991, it had won us and our allies a major military victory in the Middle East against a powerful tyrant in the short period of just a few days with minimal casualties. Today, GPS has become a household word; and it won't be long before it becomes a regular utility that we won't be able to recall how we ever lived without. It ranks in importance with the development of the internal combustion engine, transistor, and computer chip.
Most fundamentally, GPS is going to generate vastly increased, broad-based interest in geography and maps. The spatial relationships among places and various natural events and human activities will steadily gain our attention. GPS will inevitably contribute to our awareness that we all share the same planet, face the same challenges.
In conclusion, GPS obviously offers great utility to those who wish or need to navigate with precision, but it also holds a similar potential for those who wish to apply and exploit its capabilities in nearly every other endeavor; whether they be academic, scientific, or commercial.