Is your in-car Sat Nav set to wither and die?

20 May 2009

I've yet to sit in a car with a driver aided by GPS, and reach a destination any quicker than I would if I'd used a map. There's always some troublesome problem with the directions given, or a conflict of personalities between the small black box and the person behind the wheel. Or it can't establish a satellite lock. Or the batteries die.

Fortunately I've only ever followed directions off the back of an envelope or a printout of Google Maps, so I won't be first against the wall when the revolution comes. Because the technology could be about to fail catastrophically; the GPS satellites that are operated by the US Air Force are thought to be on the brink of breaking down, and that could happen as early as next year.

The US government accountability office (GAO) says that although over £1 billion has been spent so far on updating the 20 year old technology, delays and overspending means there's a danger of regular blackouts, system failures or providing inaccurate information to GPS systems. Technical issues and problems with contractors mean the first of several replacement satellites won't be launched until the end of the year - nearly three years late.

Obviously having GPS fall over not only threatens in-car navigation but every other household product that is becoming increasingly dependent on the data - including smartphones. Then we'd have to find another use for our complex handsets packed with technology. Like making phone calls, for example.

[The Guardian]

TOPICS:   Mobile   Motoring


  • Robin
    The EU / European Space Agency has been working on it's own GPS system for some time now (one of their main concerns was that the US military could just choose to switch off the existing satellites at any time without any warning and there is no alternative). It's called Galileo and will apparently be operational in about 2013. Looks like it could be a bumper 3 years for Ordinance Survey.
  • wombat
    @Paul: Couldn't you correct some of the errors in the article rather than make fatuous comments like "I’ve yet to sit in a car with a driver aided by GPS, and reach a destination any quicker than I would if I’d used a map." - after all most sat nav users don't have someone sat beside them with a map? For instance "providing inaccurate information to GPS systems" is clearly untrue and could never happen. It sounds to me like a scare generated deliberately to losen the purse strings for the US Airforce.
  • Paul W.
    "I’ve yet to sit in a car with a driver aided by GPS, and reach a destination any quicker than I would if I’d used a map." Perhaps you should sit in more cars. I've yet to read an article on this website that is comparable with proper journalism, so I won’t be first against the wall when the revolution comes and this website ceases to exist.
  • Paul
    Geo stationary satelites are not the only signals GPS receivers receive. WAAS signals (Land based GPS transmitters) have been used for some years now ....... and are used to triangulate GPS receivers more accurately. GARMIN have been usign both for some time now - and so have the millitary ...... and does anyone really think that GPS satellites will be allowed to breakdown? If the millitary have anything to do with it, I THINK NOT!!!!
  • dan m.
  • dacouch
    Surely the U.S Government Accountablity Office should be busy looking at other things the U.S is accountable for such as invading Iraq for their oil, giving the world Mcdonalds and pronoucing Aluminium the wrong way
  • antony w.
    The EU Galelleo project is years behind schedule, they have only a couple or so satellites in orbit, the budget is under review and it will probably be cancelled as the main foreseen users (transport and airways) don't want it. UK has wasted £ millions on this, typical of our government... The US GPS is just as accurate as Galelleo technically, (see so no new system is needed, just EU support for this US project.

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