Daily Doomsday Report: GPS FAIL Looming

May 19, 2009

We're rapidly approaching that moment in automotive history when all of us look back and say, "Hey, do you remember what life was like before GPS? Dude, what would we do without satnav?" Funny story: we may soon have the chance to find out.

Here's the problem: the global positioning system everyone knows and loves is funded by the U.S. government and overseen by the Department of Defense. The DOD is working hard to deploy nearly $6 billion worth of important upgrades to the aging network of satellites, earthly hardware, and software by 2013. Those upgrades have hit a few snags.

Ironically, the biggest snag seems to be lack of direct government oversight. (Sorry, Libertarian friends.) The process of developing and launching satellites has been outsourced to contractors who have performed poorly, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (insomnia-crushing PDF here). In sum, they've been slow to manufacture, deliver, and launch new products for the GPS.

So what does this mean for the Joe Jettas of the world? Well, as satellites fail, the accuracy of GPS data suffers. To oversimplify: a lot of GPS data is based on triangulation. Lose one point on the triangle, and...well, that in-dash navigation system might lead you to your ex's beach condo instead of grandma's house. Add to that our increasing dependence on the system via computer, phone, and so on--to say nothing of flight control of military defense--and you've got a recipe for disaster. Eek.

Let's hope they get that worked out, huh?

[source: Cnet]

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