27 June, 2014, by Gemma Morgan-Jones

The Absolute Beginner’s Guide To Sat Nav

Speakers: Paul Bhatia, General Manager, GRACE, Steve Fuller, Project Officer, GRACE, Prof Terry Moore, Director, Nottingham Geospatial Institute, Dr Simon Roberts, Research Fellow, Nottingham Geospatial Institute

We all use Satellite Navigation technology in our everyday lives through smart phones and in-car units, but what’s it got to do with building our businesses? That was the question on most of our minds on Thursday 19th June 2014 as 14 delegates from local businesses gathered together for this one-day workshop run by The University of Nottingham’s Geospatial Institute.

At present almost 7% of our economy is supported either directly or indirectly by Satellite Navigation services and the sector is growing rapidly. This special event, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, was designed to provide an introduction to the technology on a non-technical level and provide us beginners with an insight into what the commercial applications might be.

The history of navigation

Steve Fuller set the scene for the day by taking us back in time 3000 years, to the days long before people even thought about putting satellites into space. We journeyed through the era of navigation by the stars, the development of the compass and the innovations that led to the measurement of longitude and latitude. We looked at the historical purpose of maps including their use in propaganda and the modern invention of maps like the London Tube map that ignore all conventional mapping rules. This introduction highlighted just how far we’ve come with regards to navigation and provided some context for the rest of the day.

The history of using satellites to navigate

Paul Bhatia then eased us in gently to the ‘tech’ with his explanation of how Sat Nav technology was developed, from Sputnik to the NAVSTAR GPS system, which was originally for US military use. We began to understand why the market has exploded in just over a decade after Paul explained that ‘Selective Availability’ was switched off in 2000.

Selective Availability reserved the greatest positioning accuracy (of around 10 metres) for use by the US military only, with civilian positioning accuracy artificially restricted to 100 metres. Suddenly, without the restrictions of Selective Availability the commercial applications seemed limitless. Other nations soon wanted to develop their own Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), with China, Russia and Europe all developing sovereign capabilities rather than relying on the US-owned system.

So how does it work?

Dr Simon Roberts made light work of explaining how the technology actually works. We learned the importance of precision timing and why 4 satellites are required for accurate positioning. The clocks in our phones and devices are not as accurate as the incredibly precise atomic clocks on satellites and if the timing between the signal being transmitted from the satellite and the signal being received by your device is off by even a microsecond, it can affect positioning by up to 300 metres! So whilst only 3 satellites are required to identify your location, a fourth is required for precision timing.

Simon talked us through the different signal frequencies and how obstructions and the atmosphere can affect positioning accuracy in a down-to-earth, accessible way and even explained how our in-car Sat Navs calculate our routes. Most importantly, he explained what GNSS can do and what it can’t do, namely that it can’t track you, which is a common misperception.

What can we do with it?

In the afternoon session, we moved on to look at the commercial applications for the technology and the markets for Sat Nav. Global enabled GNSS markets are growing fast, with forecasts predicting a market size of €250 billion per annum by 2022. There has been a massive government commitment to economic growth through GNSS on a national and European wide level and as miniaturisation allows the technology to be applied in devices as small as watches, the commercial scope is increasing all the time.

Paul, Steve and Simon guided us through the commercial potential in fields such as transport and logistics, agriculture, finance, marketing, leisure and health. From utilising trackers in the clothing of sports professionals to monitor their performance, to self-driving cars and augmented reality, our minds were opened to the numerous personal and business applications.

The future of the technology

Prof Terry Moore concluded the day by giving us an insight into where the technology is heading. As older systems are being replaced, we are getting better capabilities all the time and once the new European-owned Galileo system is in full service we will have greater positioning accuracy than ever before.

There’s an overwhelming sense that it’s an exciting time to be involved in the sector and that opportunities are there for the taking for businesses that are willing to understand and embrace this powerful technology.

Our sincere thanks to Paul Bhatia, Steve Fuller, Prof Terry Moore and Dr Simon Roberts for a fascinating session and to the delegates who attended.

Posted in Assistance for businessBusiness Workshops