Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Country roads take me home?

A few days ago a friend called asking for directions on the country roads in my neck of the woods. He had a house number and road name and very sketchy (and wrong) directions from the homeowner. His Tom Tom couldn't find that house number and neither could Google maps. It ended well because my familiarity with the roads corrected the directions and supplemented the technology.
Technology that is wonderful, but not perfect. The map data bases, upon which all this technology depends, have errors. For example, the houses on my road are numbered backwards from what how the Post Office numbered them, so using  your Garmin or Magellan lands you a couple miles away. A new FedEx guy left here the other day scratching his head. Hope it is accurate if I need 911.
Now a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office questions the future reliability of our Global Positioning System. Developed by the Department of Defense and managed by the U.S. Air Force, GPS is a global navigation system of between 24 and 32 satellites that was used for military navigation, maps, etc. President Bill Clinton opened it up for civilian uses and you know the rest of the story - it is used in car navigation systems, by hobbyists for geocaching and waymarking, by cell phones, by first responders, by hunters, and by FedEx. In short, just about everyone is touched by GPS nearly every day.
Now, the GAO has expressed concerns about necessary maintenance and replacement of the satellites that are the backbone of the system. The reasons are many and complicated - ranging from costs, to technical problems, to changing vendors because of mergers and buyouts. But, whatever the causes, the report predicts a possible degradation of service as early as 2010.
If the Air Force does not meet its schedule goals for development of GPS IIIA satellites, there will be an increased likelihood that in 2010, as old satellites begin to fail, the overall GPS constellation will fall below the number of satellites required to provide the level of GPS service that the U.S. government commits to. Such a gap in capability could have wide-ranging impacts on all GPS users, though there are measures the Air Force and others can take to plan for and minimize these impacts.
There's more background in this article at TidBITS. 
Now, how do I get to the church for the wedding this weekend?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hehe. I just heard this from Brian Williams. You scooped him by a day and a half. Guess his gps's batteries died.