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Media captionBrad Parkinson and Lord Browne clarify the significance of GPS

This yr’s £1m QE Engineering Prize has been gained by 4 people who performed key roles in growing GPS.

The People Brad Parkinson, James Spilker Jr, Hugo Fruehauf, and Richard Schwartz had been all current on the London ceremony held to announce the honour.

HRH The Princess Royal made the award.

The International Positioning System started as a navy venture however has since had a revolutionary influence on wider society, and now underpins lots of of billions of of financial exercise.

Dr Parkinson stated it was a unprecedented honour to obtain the Queen Elizabeth Engineering Prize, however he was then fast to pay tribute to the many individuals who had been concerned within the innovation.

“It’s an superior honour. There is no such thing as a prize for engineering better than this,” he advised BBC Information.

“The great half is that it is a recognition for know-how that’s good for humanity world wide. And it is humbling as a result of, candidly, the 4 of us characterize one other rating of engineers, and extra, who made essential contributions. No one does all the things.”

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The place and when: GPS is utilized in myriad and ever-expanding methods

How essential is GPS?

GPS is made attainable by a community of 24-plus spacecraft in orbit that transmit exact timing and positional info to receivers across the globe.

And whereas most individuals shall be conversant in the know-how from their smartphone or automotive sat-nav system – the indicators are utilized in myriad and ever-expanding methods, serving to to synchronise mobile and information networks; to time-stamp monetary transactions; and to co-ordinate provide chains, whether or not they contain vans, planes, ships or trains.

Certainly, it’s arduous to consider an exercise in trendy society that does not lean indirectly on GPS and its sister companies now coming on-line, reminiscent of Europe’s Galileo community.

And this reliance will solely go deeper as we enter two new eras – that of the so-called “Web of Issues”, the place all method of objects are linked by the web; and that of Large Knowledge, the place enormous volumes of knowledge factors are analysed by highly effective computer systems to disclose completely new behavioural patterns and tendencies.

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Trendy industrial economies are underpinned by exact positioning, navigation and timing

What did the laureates do?

Bradford Parkinson is usually known as the “father of GPS”. The retired United States Air Pressure Colonel led the event of the system we all know as we speak.

He pulled collectively specialists over Labor Day weekend, 1973, to brainstorm the venture, producing a 7-page report that was then applied with preliminary funding of $200m.

Dr Parkinson recruited James Spilker Jr, who designed the sign that is transmitted by the satellites.

Hugo Freuhauf is credited with miniaturising laboratory atomic clocks so that they could possibly be carried aboard a spacecraft. These small, super-accurate timepieces are on the coronary heart of the system.

And Richard Schwartz takes a share within the prize for the radiation-hardened design of the satellites, which at first of the venture had been made by Rockwell Worldwide.

The GPS spacecraft function in a Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) at an altitude of 20,000km, the place energetic particles can journey digital circuits except they’re correctly protected.

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Key enabler: It is nearly as if GPS was invented for the smartphone

Why does this award matter?

Prof Sir Christopher Snowden, chair of the QE Prize Judging Panel, stated: “GPS is one thing which pulls collectively so many various applied sciences, and it was an extremely difficult problem to develop it.

“It even has the Principle of Relativity utilized into it. For those who’re in search of one thing that spans practically each side of engineering and science – you’ve got acquired it with GPS.”

Lord Browne of Madingley, who chairs the muse that runs the prize, added: “Engineering is the muse of civilisation; there isn’t any different basis; it makes issues occur. And that is precisely what as we speak’s Laureates have completed – they’ve made issues occur. They’ve re-written, in a significant approach, the infrastructure of our world.”

The USAF at present has 31 operational satellites in orbit to ship the GPS indicators. The primary of a brand new design for the spacecraft, now constructed by Lockheed Martin, was launched in December.

How is GPS being improved?

Generally known as Block III, this iteration of satellite tv for pc has 3 times higher accuracy and is alleged to be considerably extra immune to jamming and “spoofing” (making a receiver assume it’s someplace it isn’t). The Block III additionally incorporates an addition to its sign construction that can enhance interoperability with the likes of Galileo.

The prize was introduced on the Royal Academy of Engineering, which launched a report in 2011 that warned of the hazards for society if it grew to become over-reliant on GPS. A more moderen report has calculated that for every single day the system was unavailable, it could value the UK economic system a billion kilos.

Dr Parkinson stated this was an actual concern.

“Like all good issues, GPS is one thing on which we will change into to dependent,” he advised BBC Information.

“We’ve an idea – PTA, which stands for Defend, Toughen and Increase. Defend the frequencies and the sign. Toughen the receivers, and Increase the methods – put in place different methods which is probably not as correct or as sturdy however which give a back-up, and provides a consumer in bother a backdoor to get out of bother.”