Future Visions from the GNSS Oscar Winners

October 3, 2012  - By
Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron

At the magazine’s annual Leadership Dinner, held during the ION-GNSS Conference, we gave the first GNSS Leadership Awards to four individuals for their respective work in the four fields of satellites, signals, services, and products. We asked each recipient to give us a vision of the future: upcoming work, whether that’s something they plan to undertake or they think someone else should get going on, new directions for the industry, and so on. I asked them to ruminate as speculatively and as far into the future as they wished to go. Here’s what they told us.

These are not lifetime or career achievement awards, but recognition of significant contribution in the last year or two. Think of them as the Oscars, the Academy Awards of GNSS, if you will, for significant recent achievement.

Several people were nominated in each category by a small group, then voted on by a larger group of about 40, including the magazine’s Editorial Advisory Board, the contributing editors, and a dozen industry executives.

Here are the award recipients, followed by their remarks to an audience of 200 GNSS international VIPs attending the GPS World dinner.

In the Satellitescategory: Martin Unwin and the Surrey Satellite Technology Team
Principal engineer, SSTL.
For work on the GIOVE-A and Galileo IOV satellites, and on space-borne receivers

In the Signalscategory: Todd Humphreys
Director, Radionavigation Laboratory, and assistant professor, University of Texas at Austin.
Leader of several seminal studies on spoofing and jamming; testified this summer before Congress on the subject.

In the Servicescategory: Waldemar Kunysz
Senior staff engineer, NextNav LLC.
Forwork on Wide Area Positioning System (WAPS) design and implementation in the continental United States.

In the Products category: Robert Lutwak
Chief scientist, Symmetricom.
For practical advances to overcome the intrinsic physical barriers to affordable chip-scale atomic clocks, enabling precision time and time transfer in mobile GNSS and communications systems. 

Now, their remarks.


Martin Unwin, honoree in the Satellites category.

Martin Unwin
Principal Engineer, Surrey Satellite Technology Team

“I feel privileged and honoured to receive this award from GPS World.

“With respect to the achievements in GIOVE-A and Galileo, I cannot claim this award on behalf of myself, but I will claim it on behalf of the people in SSTL who made the projects possible, and to those in the team here who have been working tirelessly to make the payloads and satellites happen. We are of course partnered with others in Europe that have been labouring equally hard, so it has been a true team effort.

“With respect to the spaceborne GPS and GNSS activities, my achievements have only been possible thanks to the top class staff we have in the receivers team, and thanks are also due to the support we have had from the rest of SSTL.

“In the 20 years I have been in the company, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd has grown from a small University-based department to a major player in the international space scene, and I am immensely proud to have been part of this story.

“A few words for the future:

“Whilst it cannot quite match the early heady days of GPS, I still think nevertheless we are entering an exciting time in the GNSS world. We have two operational systems, and within a few years, we will be seeing two more reaching operational capability. Dual-, even triple-frequency civil signals will soon become operationally available, and some very wide bandwidth signals will be sent down, in particular, by Galileo. There is bound to be a steep learning curve in understanding how to exploit these new signals, with a few crevasses to be negotiated during the climb. But these new signals are bound to lead to an expanded vista of increased accuracy and robustness, and undoubtedly some unexpected destinations.

“Taking perhaps the highest perspective, spaceborne remote sensing is a good example that has surprising relevance to the rest of us still on the ground. In this case, GNSS satellites are used as radar sources, and all that is required on a low Earth orbiting satellite to change the world is a GNSS receiver. GPS Radio-Occultation measurements from low Earth orbit are now already the third most important data source for our global weather forecasts, thanks to the like of the COSMIC and MetOp satellites. Furthermore a new constellation of satellites called CYGNSS has recently announced by NASA that will be using ocean-reflected GPS signals to probe inside hurricanes and typhoons, and for the first time will enable the sensing of the wide-scale ocean roughness, leading to improved global wind and wave knowledge.

“By adding to this spaceborne receiver the ability to accommodate signals from Glonass, Galileo and Compass, plus any other available GNSS-type signals, the number of measurements is instantly quadrupled, and a new capability in sensing the atmosphere, waves and even ice and land is likely to be seen. Meteorologists already view GPS as an emerging utility for weather and climate sensing, but I think this new role for GNSS will be reinforced and expanded into yet another area where GNSS incontrovertibly, if indirectly, makes such a significant difference to our daily lives.

“As with many other applications where GNSS has become important or even critical to our modern world, this is, at the same time, both a blessing and a matter for some caution.”

Todd Humphreys, honoree in the Signals category. (credit: Mark Cowart)

Todd Humphreys
Director, Radionavigation Laboratory,
and Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Austin

It’s a genuine honor to receive this award. I’d like to thank Alan Cameron and all the contributors to GPS World. GPS World plays an essential role in building our GNSS community and keeping it together, providing GNSS news, instruction, and, indispensably, gossip!

“I’d also like to thank my students at the University of Texas Radionavigation Lab. Much of the credit for this award goes to them

“The futurist Ray Kurzweil spoke at a conference I attended back in 2001. Maybe some of you have heard of Ray. He’s regarded variously as a prophet, or a crackpot. He’s taking hundreds of vitamins every day to keep himself alive until the singularity arrives, at which point he’ll download himself onto a robot and live forever, or at least he’ll have his head cryogenically frozen so that he can be downloaded and live forever later on.

“In that 2001 talk Ray made some bold predictions. One, in particular, I remember well.  “Within the decade,” Ray assured us, “we’ll all be wearing special contact lenses that give us a permanent Internet feed directly to our eyeballs.” Nonsense, I thought, and indeed it was nonsense.  Here we are in 2012 and no such contact lenses exist, never mind their being in widespread use.

“I resolved back then that if I were ever called on to peer into the future and tell what I see, as Alan has asked me to do tonight, I’d be more modest about it.

“So tonight I’m going to make a modest prediction, and only one of them. I predict that by the GPS World dinner in 2020 carrier-phase differential GNSS, or, if you prefer an adjective for what should be a noun, Real-Time Kinematic, will be cheap and pervasive. We’ll have it on our cell phones and our tablets. There will be app families devoted to decimeter- and centimeter-level accuracy. The consequences will be fantastic.  And this will be enormously disruptive to the current precision navigation industry. This will be the commoditization of centimeter-level GNSS.

“Now you may very well object to this prediction. You might point out that integer ambiguities will be difficult to resolve in the face of the near-field effects around and poor placement of the GNSS antenna in handheld units. You might also argue that the increased power requirements of carrier-phase techniques will be a dealbreaker for mobile devices. That’s all fine.  I agree that those are hard problems. My students and I are looking into them, trying to overcome them.

“But please don’t make as one of your objections the one that I’ve heard so many times: “Why would anyone ever want cm-accurate positioning in their cell phone?” Because I’ll object that your objection lacks imagination.

“To see one example of what could be done with commoditized centimeter-accurate GNSS, I invite you all to a presentation by my students Daniel Shepard, Ken Pesyna, and Jahshan Bhatti tomorrow in the F5 Session (Millimeter-accurate Augmented Reality Enabled by Carrier-Phase Differential GPS). They’ll show off a crude box that we’ve built, through which, if you peer, you can see a sandcastle that’s not really there.  And you can walk around the sandcastle and see it from all sides with centimeter accuracy.

“Imagine when this technology is in our tablets! Or, better yet, when it’s in our glasses — or, I suppose, our contact lenses. Not that I’m making any predictions about contact lenses…”

Waldemar Kunysz, honoree in the Services category. (credit: Mark Cowart)

Waldemar Kunysz
Senior Staff Engineer, NextNav LLC

“Ladies and gentlemen: I am much honored to receive this award and recognition. It means a lot to me.

“I would like to thank people that made difference in my career, without them it would not be possible to be here.

“First I am grateful to Dr. Maurice Meyer, former MIT professor. He taught me the black magic of antenna engineering.

“I am quite sure that his spirit guided me when I invented GPS/GNSS “Pinwheel” antenna when working at Novatel for which I received 6 patents. I also would like to thank Prof. Gerard Lachappelle and Dr. AJ Van Dierendock for teaching me GPS technology and to Dr. Phillip Ward to provide very useful insight to subject of interference. That knowledge saved me countless hours when troubleshooting some system level issues when designing the current and past GPS/GNSS products.

“Currently I am working at, LLC developing a new terrestrial based Wide Area Positioning System (WAPS). NextNav is a start-up company based in Silicon Valley that already, in its short life, has designed a new system that is being deployed in 40 major urban cities in the continental USA.  This system will allow receiving a GPS look like signal in the areas where the coverage is weak or non-existent like indoors and dense urban developments (i.e. downtowns, urban canyons, etc.). We have already over 50 beacons installed in the San Francisco area that allows indoor and outdoor positioning anywhere from San Francisco to San Jose.

“As we know all major terrestrial systems have been shut down in the past several years such as Loran, Omega, Decca, etc. We became very dependent on satellite based services such as GPS and Glonass without any terrestrially based back-up. Any major solar storm in future could be very disruptive to this service so having a terrestrial based system that is in sync with satellite based system will fill that void.

“The future looks very bright for the positioning service industry. In my opinion, by 2020 it will become another utility such as phone or power. I’d like to agree with my other awardee and predict that in 2020 we will be able to have a carrier-based positioning accuracy anywhere and anytime available from any devices including handheld units. You will know where all your assets are and you won’t need to post a question to your wife: “ Honey, did you see where my tie is?”, your personal digital assistant will locate it for you.

“Thanks again everyone for being here.”

Robert Lutwak, honoree in the Products category. (credit: Mark Cowart)

Robert Lutwak
Chief Scientist, Symmetricom

Thank you, Alan, for the introduction. Thank you also to the awards committee and especially to the individual who nominated me.

“Alan requested, repeatedly and forcefully, that we keep the sentimentality to a minimum, but I would be remiss if anyone left here with the impression that the development of the Chip-Scale Atomic Clock was in any way a solo effort.

“On the contrary, while I have had the privilege of being the “front man,” the success of this program can be attributed entirely to the fantastic collaboration between three highly disparate groups, from very different industries and cultures, including our Research Group at Symmetricom’s Technology Realization, in Beverly, Massachusetts, the MEMS group at The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, led by Mark Mescher and Matt Varghese, and the optoelectronics group at Sandia National Laboratories, led by Darwin Serkland. If any of these groups and people had been anything less than extraordinary, both technically and personally, I would not be standing here this evening.

“With this introduction I can say, with little loss of humility, that the Chip-Scale Atomic Clock is a really cool device. Depending on where you’re coming from, it’s either 100X lower size, weight, and power (SWAP) than traditional atomic clocks or it’s 100X more accurate than quartz oscillators with comparable SWAP. Regardless of your perspective, it clearly represents a disruptive technology and paradigm shift for portable battery-powered navigation, communication, and timing applications. For comparison, the CSAC can run for a day on a full cellphone battery charge whereas the next lowest power clock of comparable performance will run down a car battery in an hour. The CSAC is not an evolutionary improvement in SWAP, it is revolutionary in that it enables previously untenable system architectures, mission scenarios, and network topologies.

“Since Symmetricom introduced the first commercial CSAC, roughly 2 years ago, the market response has been overwhelming. Despite having done our due diligence to predict the market demand and despite having nearly doubled our manufacturing output every quarter, our shipment backlog remains strong and I am frequently surprised by innovative customer applications that we had not envisioned at the product launch. We have to date shipped many thousands of CSACs to over a hundred different customers, representing vastly different markets and applications. While many of the novel applications are still in the early stages of prototype development and evaluation, it is clear that CSACs will be ubiquitous across diverse applications within the decade.

“I am fortunate, in my position, to interact directly with the technical integrators of the CSAC and learn the details of many of the applications. My general impression is that the timing and frequency stability performance of the CSAC is adequate for most of the emerging applications. The most common requests that I hear from customers are for reduced cost, power consumption, and size, in that order. It is not surprising that size is at the bottom of the list — in most applications, the batteries are still larger and heavier than the CSAC, so small improvements in power consumption are generally more valuable to reducing system SWAP than size reduction of the CSAC itself. As in any new technology, the cost will come down naturally with increased volume and improved manufacturing efficiencies, both at Symmetricom and at our vendors. While it is unlikely that you will get a CSAC in your next free cellphone, I do expect that the cost will progressively decrease over the next several years and the technology will become cost-viable to an exponentially increasing spectrum of applications. Similarly, we continue to evolve our electronics and algorithms for improved power consumption, aided by external advancements in microwave and microprocessor electronics driven by the smart-phone industry. It is my expectation that a factor of 2X improvement in power consumption is likely within the next three- to five-years.

“To date, most of the commercial products that have emerged, based on CSAC technology, have been in the timing and frequency calibration space. It is not surprising to me that the time and frequency community was the first to adopt and exploit the technology as many of them have been closely monitoring the development program and had the internal expertise and experience to rapidly exploit it.

“I admit, though, that I am a bit disappointed to see that there are no papers with “CSAC” in their titles at the 2012 ION-GNSS, but I am confident that this will change in the years to come. Adoption of CSAC by the navigation community has lagged behind the timing community in large part, I believe, because the technology has caught the community somewhat off-guard and the benefits of the CSAC to INS and GNSS are just now beginning to be realized.

“The most obvious and straightforward application of CSAC to GNSS is rapid P(Y) acquisition and we have demonstrated 15s time-to-subsequent-fix (TTSF) after two hours of GPS denial. This was a fairly simple demonstration that simply consisted of jamming time into an unmodified GPS receiver, but I believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg. With access to the core navigation algorithms within the receiver, precise knowledge of time could improve the receiver performance and reliability on other levels, including (at least):

  1. Improved uncertainty of the navigation solution
  2. Navigation with less than four (or less than three) satellites
  3.  Anti-spoof and anti-jam detection
  4.  Seamless co-integration of GNSS and INS systems

“Another navigation area that I believe is ripe to benefit from CSAC technology is in self-assembling navigation systems, e.g. a local ad hoc GNSS-like network which self-assembles from handheld timing beacons/receivers. Such a system would have value for safety-of-life applications in GPS-denied environments, such as indoor firefighting and mine safety.

“Thank you again for the recognition and opportunity of this award.”

Alan Cameron

About the Author:

Alan Cameron is editor-in-chief and publisher of GPS World magazine, where he has worked since 2000. He also writes the monthly GNSS System Design e-mail newsletter and the Wide Awake blog.

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