Sat navs: taking a turn for the worse

15.06 | 9 March 2011 | | 2 comments

Society may be so dangerously over-reliant on satellite navigation systems that failure could result in a loss of life, suggests a report published by The Royal Academy of Engineering.

The report, ‘Global Navigation Space Systems: reliance and vulnerabilities’, looks into the increasing use of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), which US operated GPS systems are best known for implementing.

As well as sat navs, the signals are used by data networks, financial systems, shipping and air transport, agriculture, railways and emergency services. But according to the report, all GNSS applications are vulnerable to failure, disruption and interference.

The report looks at a range of possible consequences of these, from the inconvenient (such as passenger information system failures) to possible loss of life (such as interruptions to emergency services communications). It says that the real threat lies in ‘dangerously misleading’ results which may not seem obviously wrong.

Dr Martyn Thomas CBE FREng, chairman of the academy’s GNSS working group, says: "GPS and other GNSS are so useful and so cheap to build into equipment that we have become almost blindly reliant on the data they give us.

"A significant failure of GPS could cause lots of services to fail at the same time, including many that are thought to be completely independent of each other. The use of non-GNSS back-ups is important across all critical uses of GNSS."

Click here to view the report.


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    I have followed cars where they seem to be weaving all over the road – and spotted that the driver has their Sat Nav mounted to the windscreen directly in front of their eyes – this is absolute madness – and is an accident waiting to happen! This must be stopped!

    Phil M
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    I’m glad I’ve invested in some good maps and remember how to give a grid reference from school geography; along the corridor and up the stairs, eastings & northings etc!

    Mark, Wiltshire
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