The GNSS Election ’08: a Victory for the Surveyor
At the annual ION GNSS conference in Savannah, Georgia, in September, GPS World magazine hosted its third annual Leadership Dinner. Many of the world’s leading GNSS experts attend this dinner. Those experts include research scientists, professors from renowned universities, and heads of companies, as well as influential government representatives and GNSS consultants.
Earlier this year, Alan Cameron, GPS World editor in chief, was mulling ideas for the theme of this year’s GPS World Leadership Dinner. He said he’d like to dovetail off of this year’s U.S. presidential election. I threw some ideas at him, as did other editors and associates.
Richard Langley, University of New Brunswick GNSS guru and GPS World Innovation column editor, had this great idea of a two-party system for the 2008 GNSS Election. Thus, the Satellites Party (Blue) and the Signals Party (Red) were born.
In the election planning stages, an idea for a third party, the Power Party (Green), was floated by Len Jacobson but not enough support was garnered to add it to the general ticket, so to speak. The Power Party was in favor of boosting power on all satellites while keeping the number of satellites and existing signals as they are today.
As much as the election was designed for entertainment value, the arguments from both parties are real world, and from people waist-deep in GNSS receiver and infrastructure development.
The Satellites Party position statement: We pledge to implement a total GNSS constellation of 60 satellites, all broadcasting signals that exist on-air today.
The Signals Party position statement: We pledge to implement full operating capability of L2C, L5, L1C, Galileo’s range of signals, and GLONASS CDMA, broadcast solely from the satellites on orbit today.
Leading the Satellites Party were Greg Turetzky, SiRF director of marketing, new product technology, and IP; Yatin Acharya, Texas Instruments GPS hardware and software systems product manager; and Per-Ludvig Nomark, NordNav founder and currently a Cambridge Silicon Radio fellow of GPS software. Leading the Signals Party were Javad Ashjaee, Javad GNSS president and CEO, and David Wither, Sarantel Ltd. CEO.
As you may recall, I was scheduled to moderate the election along with fellow contributing editor Don Jewell. Hurricane Ike had other plans for me. My flight to Savannah was canceled because it was routed via Houston. Alas, ION GNSS 2008 was not meant for me.
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. During the election planning process, I had conferred with Alan privately: “Do I, as a moderator, need to remain objective during the debate?” I queried, knowing full well what the answer would be.
“Yes, my friend, you do,” said Alan.
Perhaps that was the beginning of the end for me, at least in my mind.
Past newsletter columns and other GPS World articles presented way too much incriminating evidence that my objectivity was not just tainted, but downright biased. It reminded me of a writing competition in a journalism class where my paper was promptly returned to me with the words “not objective” scratched in red ink across the entire page by the first evaluator who read it. I was not born lacking neither an opinion nor the desire to express it. I would make a horrible news reporter.
Back to the Debate
Javad Ashjaee made some powerful and convincing arguments for the Signal Party. He says the signal quality (read: accuracy) is the foundation from which everything is built.
“We are the party of building infrastructure. They are party of building toys. They are worried about finding their friends in the middle of downtown New York. We are the party of building roads, generating accurate maps, growing your food by automating agriculture, and synchronizing your power stations. We are even working on automatically landing aircraft to use the air space more efficiently,” said Ashjaee.
“The latest figure from Col. David Madden, the GPS lead commander, it says costs between $60 million to $70 million to build a GPS satellite, and $200 million is the cost of launching the vehicle, and then add the cost to monitor it and keep it in orbit and a dozen monitoring stations,” Ashjaee continued. “In its lifespan it will cost over $300 million dollars. These guys have no sense for money. They are spoiled brats, especially that Turetzky there (laughs), who want to spend $300 million dollars to play on their cellphones or do those fox games at night in the middle of canyons, of urban canyons, like in New York. I mean, they want to do that with their 99-cent chipsets and they want us to spend $300 million dollars.”
Hmmm … interesting. Save money by plugging more signals into the same satellites. Makes sense. Leverage off of what you have rather than creating something new. Sort of like adding more memory to the computer you own instead of buying a new computer.
For the Satellite Party, Greg Turetzky made equally enlightening and convincing arguments. Essentially, quality doesn’t matter if you are unable to benefit from it.
“We already have an L1 signal. We already have an L2 signal. We already have GLONASS signals. How many signals do we really need? I’m not arguing for one; I’ve got three. I don’t need a whole lot more. What I need, then, is to put satellites in the proper orbits, so that they can access all the different people all over the world who have and need more signals on the same satellites. This way we can actually leverage all the investment that we’ve made in the receivers that we already have.
“All the people here in the audience, who — I know you don’t own survey receivers, so I won’t go there — but how many of you own a Garmin or a TomTom? Right, or a PND?” Turetsky continued. “How many of you would like if next year it just worked better? You didn’t have to do anything? You don’t have to buy anything new, you don’t have to change any software, just all of a sudden there are more satellites in better orbits all over the world, anywhere you go. It just works better. This is what my party is about — improving the life of every single one of you without costing you an additional penny for everything you’ve already purchased.”
Fellow Satellite Party member Per-Ludvig Normark chimed in: “I just want to sort of look at, if you don’t see a signal, you don’t see a signal. What is the point of actually throwing in more signals, if you don’t see the first one? I mean it doesn’t really help you. I would argue that you need more satellites to see more signals. That is really what we need. That is what we should focus on.”
Good points, huh? Especially from Mr. Normark. That theme seems to cross all applications of satellite navigation, whether low-cost vehicle navigation or high-precision construction staking.
The electorate was offered the opportunity to ask questions of each party.
Alison Brown of NavSys asked: “Would either party bring forward a collaboration between our American and European brethren in bringing more capability to the end user?”
Greg Turetzky responded for the Satellite Party responded: “Absolutely. What we’re after is launching more of the satellites that we’ve already designed and built rather than designing and building new things that we’re not quite sure how they’re going to work, whether or not they’re going to be successful or delivered on time, and spending a lot of money to deliver new systems that we’re not really sure what the benefit will be.”
Representing the Signal Party, Javad Ashjaee rebutted: “Greg, for how many years do you suggest that we freeze and build the same Model T?”
For a group of rocket scientists, these people are pretty funny. There were 123 delegates in attendance who were registered (attendance confirmed by their dinner order) to cast their ballot. No mail-in ballots were accepted.
Satellite Party: 62
Signal Party: 46
Of course, the election results are being disputed. See the Letters to the Editor section in the December 2008 issue of GPS World. In a move to unify the two parties and soften party boundaries, President-Elect Greg Turetzky has created a new cabinet post, Minister of Accuracy, and offered it to Dr. Ashjaee.
The light-hearted debate mixed with real-world issues made this event a one-of-a-kind in the GNSS industry. Although I wasn’t in attendance, I listened to the audio recording and read the transcripts.
In reality, nations around the world are pushing forth with both the Satellite Party and Signal Party initiatives. There are both more satellites and more signals on the horizon. The hunger for positioning, whether it’s for car navigation, indoor pedestrian navigation, or geodetic surveying, is continuing to grow and push the capabilities of the existing satellite navigation systems. It’s not dissimilar to computing horsepower. It seems that just as we have enough processing power to efficiently run the software we operate, new software packages are introduced that demote our six-month-old computer into the under-powered category.