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back to article Chicken Little report: Sat-nav dependency spells DISASTER!

A heavyweight UK tech body has just issued a report claiming that growing dependence on satellite navigation systems poses serious economic and safety risks to society. There's some truth in the report, but unfortunately it verges on scaremongering at times and appears to have been unduly influenced by organisations which can't …

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Megaphone

How on earth did we cope...

... With A to Z's and ordinance survey maps?

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Silver badge

We didn't

I remember following an Ordinance Survey map and thinking "Gosh, I really wish I had a celebrity to tell me how to get to my destination instead of all these carefully laid out roads landmarks."

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Joke

You are new here I guess

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/10/15/bionav_road_test/

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Headmaster

ah...

erm thats Ordnance as in things miltary (mapping) etc.

Not Ordinance as in local authority bye-laws.

Grammer Nazi 'cos sometime you just have too

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Headmaster

er...

"Grammer [sic] Nazi 'cos sometime [sic] you just have too"

Sometimes you just have as well?

Did you mean: "Sometimes you just have one more than one"

Or did you mean: "Sometimes performing the actions of a Grammar Nazi becomes a necessity"

Or did you mean: "I'll choose the "pedantic grammar nazi alert" icon to point out a spelling mistake rather than any incorrect use of grammar"

(Thankyou, yes, I'm ready now for other PGNs to pick my own response apart 8-) )

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Headmaster

pretty sure you meant to say

"thank you"

"thankyou" is a noun

And I'm posting the Grammer Nazi to!

And using conjunctions to end sentences with.

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Happy

@some vaguely opinionated bloke && @Fr. Ted Crilly

It's obvious that "@Fr. Ted Crilly" was deliberately spewing erroneous grammar. Or, maybe not that obvious to some. LOL.

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Coat

Mark I eyeball (perhaps a pair of them) and appropriate charts/maps

Oh and the ability to use both in conjunction with a compass & clock when necessary.

Is it really so hard? If it is, then you probably shouldn't be driving/riding/sailing/flying in the first place.

Mine's the one with a rolled up Admiralty chart & compass in the pocket.

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Is it really so hard?

Yes, unless you have someone sitting there as navigator. You definitely shouldn't be driving with an OS map on one hand and a compass in the other, while trying to read street names.

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Or..

You could pull over and read the map. Just like you pull over and use your mobile phone perhaps.

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pull over and read the map

Depends. Driving through cities with one way systems, stopping restrictions, heavy traffic and inconsistent signage can be a pain in the ass even with sat nav or someone to map read. Unfortunately, the more complex the road system and consequently the more time you need to spend reading the map, then less chance you will have of being able to pull over and do so.

It's probably a law of nature or something.

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Bronze badge

Everybody down!

I was steaming about the Pentland Firth last night at 20kts.

Autopliot went tits-up, Gyrotrac gone wonky by 30 degrees but the Mark1 eyeball and radar is very good.

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Ah the good old days

I remember being really impressed 20-25 years ago with the accuracy of Decca off Bridlington. It took us to within 100 metres of a mark in foggy conditions allowing us visibity of it.

These days the GPS on my phone knows which room of the house I am in if I use the Sat view on Google maps as the marker switches around as I wander about the house.

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Anonymous Coward

Decca

I happen to have a load of Decca station gear which I inherited: Lots of gold flashed single layer PCBs with nixie tubes and pre TTL ICs. Really ought to do something cool with it one day and alert the Internets.

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FAIL

Use the bloody window

As a fellow ex-OOW (and still a Hydro surveyor) more than one "old man" used to forever shout at the baby bridge teams to "look out the bloody window". People get sucked into staring at a computer screen when closest points of danger could clearly be seen, both in ships and cars.

As for technical kit, AIS, GMDSS, radar, ad nauseum, all these need is a positional feed. Be it GPS, DGPS, Glonass or galileo. it's the lack if a resolved position that causes the alarm, not the fact that a positional feed is out of error budget. Redundancy in systems prevents this, adn you can always hit the alarm cancel button and use a paper chart and a compass...

As for Loran - there's a reason it fell out of fashion. It isn't as good. otherwise we would still use the damn thing, and anyone trying to seriously wreck radio positioning just needs to add a frequency to crash that as well, however they try to enhance it.

Besides, it's not the interference with signals that is the real disaster scenario, it's spoofing. being able to fool systems into calculating a wrong position. And despite Hollywoods (and pinewoods) best efforts, that is actually very difficlut to acheive.

As with every report. Follow the cash. Who paid for it to be written and whats their agenda?

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Coat

Pre Sat Nav

Want to get from one place to another but don't know the way? Theres a mapp for that

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Anonymous Coward

Very good...

Although I believe it's traditional to finish a comment like that with:

"Thankya very much, I'll be here all week..."

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Go

Great name

<Commissioner of Irish Lights>

I'd work for them at 1$ a year, given a title like that.

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Joke

Who is this "Chicken Little" you speak of

Even when referring to children's stories Lewis, you still have to push your "US is better than UK" agenda!

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Happy

The "Chicken Little" you speak of...

...is better known here by it's name of "Chicken Licken", which rhymes properly and everything.

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Happy

Never mind all that!

Never mind all that rubbish, how about you educate ( in the sense of baseball bat to head ), these morons who follow their SatNav's advice to the letter and end up on train tracks and/or in lakes?!

You know the ones, always in The Sun moaning about their Garmin/Tomtom, "Duh, da fing on da dashboard what tells me what place to go done told me to turny left and I done it and now my motor is busted and is all wetted! Duh!"

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Joke

"on train tracks and/or in lakes"

Are there many places where train tracks go through lakes? :D

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Old tech

We call it MapNav

It involves sheets of printed paper (does anybody remember paper) usually in a book (that's a collection of printed sheets of paper) and you had to read it (that's right it doesn't talk to you - at the next roundabout take the third exit, etc)

LORAN - because you're worth it (tm)

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Boffin

@Lewis are you confused?

I'm sorry but the line:

"These days a lot of hardware makes use of the GPS timing signals for purposes unrelated to navigation: for instance to synchronise the precise clocks often needed in digital communication systems, or to put exact time stamps on financial transactions. Using GPS is often cheaper than installing a highly accurate timepiece."

I think you're confused.

Large scale financial institutions as well as trading floors usually have their own 'atomic' clocks which they sync to a standard atomic clock, usually run by a university or a government organization. Now these stand alone clocks have a GPS antennae.

The clocks get their timing signal as a radio signal from the known source which is at a relatively precise GPS coordinate. If you know your own coordinates you can calculate and account for the time it takes for the radio wave to travel to your location. (Yeah, even though the radio waves travel at the speed of light, it still takes time for them to travel thousands of miles from their source to your location...)

Since we're talking about things traveling at the speed of light, if your coordinates are off by a couple of meters, it shouldn't matter too much, however, if you are a type A personality, I guess you could set up a base station, monitor your GPS position for 48 hours or so and get it accurate to within a couple of cm.

With respect to using the clock in the GPS signal to set your cell phone's clock... that's possible but more than likely it will be set by the connection to the local cell tower.

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Confused?

Yes?

And the smaller than "Large scale” financial institutions and communications companies might well use a GPS synchronised NTP system, which is cheaper than an atomic clock.

Who is confused by this?

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Coat

Huh?

Ok Liam,

Lets look at this from least accurate to most accurate.

1) You run an NTP client and point to a government/university controlled NTP server.

(You don't care about network latency because its 'accurate enough and you don't have a highly accurate clock in your pc)

2) You sync to a local NTP server which either is accurate enough, or it has its own 'atomic clock'.

This NTP server is used to sync all of the local machines in your machine room/cluster/HPC environment. The NTP server can be a rack mountable appliance with a very accurate clock so that once you set it, you don't really have to worry about clock skew.

3) You put in an 'atomic clock' in to your own server. This is usually a CS clock and you have connections so you can run a cable to an external set of antennae for radio and GPS signal. This is the most accurate and its not *that* expensive for a business where time matters. (Under 10K)

Now most financial firms have their trading platforms housed in leased space near the exchange and these sites do one or more of the following:

1) Offer an NTP server that is slaved off the exchange.

2) Offer an NTP server that is slaved to a government controlled clock.

It doesn't matter what time it is as long as it matches what the exchange says the time is.

Now does that make sense?

You don't sync with a clock that is sitting in orbit. Now why is that?

Hint: Einstein could tell you but he's dead. Not to mention that its not as accurate as a radio signal from the standard clock sitting in Boulder, and for the same accuracy, you have other options. Like a radio receiver that gets the Boulder radio signal, and then you just plug in either your street address, or the geo-encoded x,y coordinates you got from going to the web...

Bottom line, you don't pull the time from the clock signal off of GPS and again Lewis made the comment that financial shops rely on GPS signals for their clocks.

OK?

You do realize that time is relative, right? :-)

Mine's the coat that has a small card deck sized atomic clock I got from military surplus.

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Huh?

Wow I am impressed. You completely missed the point twice in a row.

Your assertion that GPS is not used as a clock reference is just plain wrong. There are plenty of devices which do this. I can only assume that since they fall between 1) and 2) in your list that you don't consider them worth bothering with.

Their quoted specs however, are not usually any worse than systems synched to the various long range transmitters which you also mention. Although those reference systems like NIST and DSF are they best clocks we have, sticking the signal through a huge transmitter and bouncing it off the ionosphere does degrade the accuracy a little. The ionosphere moves during the day and hence so does the phase of your supposedly accurate clock.

Sure if time is really your thing, then you need to get yourself a top of the range clock. But none of this discussion has anything to do with the fact that GPS provides a reasonably accurate reference signal, and some people use it because it is of a similar standard to the long range transmitters (in the real world). Often better by virtue of being able to get a decent signal at all.

I assume by your comments on relativity that you haven’t realised that this is built into the calculations for the GPS system. It wouldn’t work very well otherwise.

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No low-tech alternative for timing

GPS is near ubiquitous use in high precision timing is far more worrysome than anything loss of navigation.

GPS provides accurate timing down to tens of nanoseconds. Nothing else comes close (except for Galeleo and GLONAS).

Radio time signals, NTP etc are orders of magnitude away and are not good enough for high precision timing.

No more cell phones. No more broadband. That's where the real dark ages will come from.

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Paris Hilton

[Insert Deity of Choice] forbid

... that we should actually remember / learn how to read a map.

I've seen people walking down streets in London, Blackberry in hand with the GPS doing the "you are X and moving in -> that direction" trick, and then wrap themselves round signposts.

Actually its quite enjoyable watching them do that.

{Paris - because she's got some flunky to GPS for her}

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That'll be fun

...when it makes it out to the provinces. Speaking for myself: if I'm lost it's usually somewhere where I don't want to pull out an Android, lest it get nicked.

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Stop

Maybe for commercial vessels...

It may be cheaper to employ a monkey who is only capable of watching a computer screen. But as far as I know all commercial vessels over a certain size have to be staffed by a competent bridge officer, or a trained officer of the watch. So this begs the question of what exactly is it that these monkeys are being taught in their deck officer courses if they cannot revert to manual navigation methods and techniques.

Regardless, ALL vessels on the high seas - and that includes you holidaymakers over there on your pedalos and jet skis are required by law (i.e. the IMO) to maintain a watch at all times to prevent collisions at sea.

Being a yachtie myself, I find GPS an invaluable aid to navigation in fog and bad weather - but have never relied on it as I find it much more satisfying to work with paper charts, pilotage and my trusty Freiberger - but mostly my eyeballs.

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hmmmmm

My family taught me to navigate by stopping at every pub on the port side. till you either get where you going or moor up for the night pending pub availability.

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Gold badge

Sat naving

I guess then that they are saying that money should be put into Gallileo, the Euro sat nav system to be a backup to GPS ? :)

Also Gallileo has a "signal integrity" function that can let receivers know to not trust the signal from a sat because there is something wrong with it.

Differential GPS is very good. The system set up for the new tunnel from Germany to Denmark (www.femern.com) gets an acceracy of a few millimetres over the entire work area.

As for comms networks, I understand that the fully sychronous ATM network backbone that BT runs (used to run) was very timing critical, but I thought that the new packet-switched-based network didn't really care about timing?

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More and more of the current GPS use is aGPS

If you are "a"-ing on GPS via the cellular network in the first place you can detect if the GPS is giving you stupid results. Similarly, if GPS is totally dead you can still use the "a" bit to navigate.

As far as networks using GPS for timing - it does so in the USA. In Europe it does not. It may be one of the sources, but nearly all cellular networks make extensive use of network side clock where once again GPS is only one of the sources. Ditto for financial transactions - there is a GPS input to a very high precision NTP stratum 1 source and that in turn is used to provide timing.

As far as failure of people, cars, etc to navigate that is even less likely to happen tomorrow than today. "Pure" GPS devices are disappearing and more and more people rely on their phones which once again have the "a"-bit in place and can provide a position even if there is no GPS signal available.

In any case, ensuring that cellular networks have proper timing so that they can supply positioning and timing information (they can do both) provides _BETTER_ overall national infrastructure resilence than sticking yet another set of easily jammable low power transmitters.

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Oh yes they do

" the "MSF" (nobody really knows what this stands for) radio station ..."

MSF is the callsign allocated to the transmitting station. The "M" being one of the ITU allocated callsign prefixes (we also have 2 and G) and its original callsign was GBR.

Those who used to watch Zcars will probably remember "BD to zvictor1" coming over their police radios - the BD being short for M2BD, the Lancashire police callsign I believe. All radio amateurs in the UK have callsigns starting with 2, G or M.

More info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_sign

73 from G4HDU

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Happy

Er.. @Sculptor

I didn't know that MSF had moved from Rugby. Not that I bother to put the propagation delay in my NTP config. I used to live in Anthorn, so the guys that still live in the three cottages probably get good time now.

I'm sure that our famous Mr. L Page knows about callsigns from his time as a Foreign legion radio operator.

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@Sculptor35

Another standard frequency I used to use was BBC Radio 4 Long Wave on 200 Kc/s. This was picked up on a long wave receiver, the audio filtered out, squared off and passed through assorted TTL dividers (divide by 200) to give a very accurate frequency source (and hence timing source). I believe it was (and still is?) accurate to 1 second in 3000 years and monitored by the National Physical Laboratory. My frequency source is no longer used as Radio 4 moved to 198 KHz and I didn't bother building a new one with new dividers.

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Coat

tks om

saved me writing that up

As an ex Sparky (RE/O- Radio Electronics Officer) I am horrified that the Grey Funnel Line (Royal Navy) had an OOW who doesn't know what callsigns are - how did he get his bridge ticket with out his R/T ticket ? No R/T (radio telephone) ticket no talky on bridge vhf set. No talk on Bridge VHF set - no watch keeping officer certificate; so no standing as OOW (Officer of the Watch).

And of course the new site for MSF doesn't even cover the UK.

So MSF on 16KHz - GBR on 5MHz and 10MHz along with WWV (Colorado US) and WWVH (Honolulu)

Callsigns don't stand for anything - though occasionally the licensing authority will assign a sequence of letters that 'make sense' - GBR was at Rugby (GB R - Great Britain Rugby)

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Happy

Trinity House

I went to school there, wonder if they still teach O-Level Navigation?

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Pint

Bring back Consol

A Long Wave radio and a chart was all you needed. Oh, and the ability to count. Oh, and the ability to assume you weren't 1000 miles away from whwre you thought you were. Oh, and the nouse to know that your position was pretty good but still approximate, so don't assume it's infallible and therefore end up piling up the coastline next to the harbour, blaming your GPS-connected auotpilot.

AND it could be used with just one station, though two or three were better.

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Black Helicopters

Good for bombs tho'

It may help with the nukes but GPS has changed the definition of close air support. When Stormin Norman was on stage showing the world how to do shock & awe it was with expensive bombs dropped by even more expensive aircraft. Now geriatric museum pieces (more reliable than the B1s & 2s) drop dumb iron bombs with satnav (JDAMS kit fitted) from 48000ft & 10Km away then land them within a couple of metres of the designated target. in the 1940s a mile was as good as a hit. the yanks are raiding aviation museums to keep the B52s flying. If we still had a few Vulcans the Us would be begging for the RAF to use them to take som of the pressure off their pensioners. After all they did once defeat Norad & pretend bomb the land of the free.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Skyshield#Operations

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Alert

Disruption to Rail Networks?

"In 500 metres, at the next railway bridge, turn sharp left".

"At the next railway station, for no reason, stop the train for 15 minutes".

"At the next railway crossing, turn right, and follow signs for Guildford".

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Anonymous Coward

Excellent article

But, "AIS is nowadays mandatory for ships of any size" versus "...small vessels don't carry AIS"?

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Thumb Up

I noticed the same ...

... but put it down to that arcane difference between "ships" and "boats" that no-one ever seems to explain, but which allows those in the know to sneer at you.

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Pint

What ever happened to the GPS Pseudolite concept?

Basically take a GPS satellite (much, much, MUCH cheaper version) and bolt it to a pole. The ephemeris location is obviously surveyed and hard-coded. Each pseudolite would broadcast the exact same sort of signal as does a GPS satellite, but would obviously provide a much higher signal strength in the local area (vastly increasing reliability in the local area). These gadgets would be scattered around airports and major waterways.

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WTF?

What on earth are they on about?

"The RAE's Ploszek suggested to the Reg that the MSF signal isn't good enough to stand in for GPS, saying "at 60Hz, I'd suspect that it isn't going to offer enough precision"."

A man who can't tell the difference between 60Hz and 60kHz isn't to be trusted with sharp objects. The MSF time signal simply gates a 60kHz carrier, so the precision you can recover the edges to depends on the precision to which you can spot the carrier going away. That's of the order of a microsecond if you're keen enough.

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WTF?

kHz! = Hz

I saw that as well! I am suddenly much more concerned for the state if engineering skill in the UK! My thesis, many years ago, used MSF and as a result I was required to study timing systems quite extensively.

MSF is transmitted at 60kHz with an accuracy of 2 in 10^12. As was implied above, with clean detection and a correctly designed PLL you could easily depend on MSF. When I was at the BBC a standard reference for both time and frequency was an agreement between multiple GPS and MSF receivers. But that kind of kit cost more than a COTS 1pps GPS receiver.

Bob

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