India Pushing Phone Makers to Adopt NavIC

Reuters reports that the Indian government is pushing mobile phone makers to include support for NavIC, the Indian-government owned satellite navigation system. (At the moment NavIC provides regional coverage from a seven-satellite constellation, but the plan is for 24-satellite global coverage.) Phone makers are resisting the request, citing the additional chips and cost required to support the system. And there’s the matter of redundancy: the current iPhone, for example, already supports BeiDou, Galileo, GLONASS and QZSS in addition to GPS. [9to5Mac]

Ships Are Increasingly Spoofing Their Location

Ships spoofing their location is an increasing problem, Anatoly Kurmanaev reports for the New York Times. All large ships are required to carry an AIS transponder that transmits the ship’s ID and position, but some ships are starting to find a way around that.

[O]ver the past year, Windward, a large maritime data company that provides research to the United Nations, has uncovered more than 500 cases of ships manipulating their satellite navigation systems to hide their locations. The vessels carry out the deception by adopting a technology that until recently was confined to the world’s most advanced navies. The technology, in essence, replicates the effect of a VPN cellphone app, making a ship appear to be in one place, while physically being elsewhere.

Its use has included Chinese fishing fleets hiding operations in protected waters off South America, tankers concealing stops in Iranian oil ports, and container ships obfuscating journeys in the Middle East. A U.S. intelligence official, who discussed confidential government assessments on the condition of anonymity, said the deception tactic had already been used for weapons and drug smuggling.

We’ve seen examples of this before, but this is starting to look like an endemic problem.

GPS Negatively Impacts Spatial Memory

Rebecca Solnit points to a 2020 study that attempts to measure the impact of using GPS navigation devices on our spatial memory. After assessing 50 drivers, researchers found that drivers with more GPS experience had worse spatial memory when navigating without GPS. But more significantly, it’s a longitudinal study: 13 of the participants (admittedly a small sample) were retested three years later, and greater GPS use correlated with a steeper decline in spatial memory.

This is a single study, and a small sample, so I’m hesitant to draw firm conclusions. And in any case it’s not necessarily a surprising conclusion: the more you rely on a tool, the less able you are to do without it. Well, yes. When we talk about how GPS is destroying our ability to navigate or read a map, there is a presumption that this is an objectively bad thing. Except that I’ve encountered too many people who couldn’t navigate their way out of a bag before GPS. A lot of people who let their GPS receivers get them lost were, I think, pretty good at getting themselves lost without it.

The question isn’t whether GPS use atrophies an individual’s ability to navigate: that’s like worrying that a calculator reduces your ability to do sums in your head, or that a word processor excuses you from knowing how to spell. Of course it does. Those of us who are good at navigation (or sums, or spelling) and think an important skill is being lost will clutch our pearls, but making something easier also makes it more accessible. The question is whether people are, on balance, at a societal level, getting lost less often. That’s not a question neuroscience can solve, nor something you can test with an fMRI. I’m not sure how to measure it, or even if it can be measured. But I’d love to find out.

Previously: Wayfinding: A New Book about the Neuroscience of Navigation; Satnavs and ‘Switching Off’ the Brain; McKinlay: ‘Use or Lose Our Navigation Skills’; ‘Could Society’s Embrace of GPS Be Eroding Our Cognitive Maps?’; How GPS Eats Our Brains.

Bartosz Ciechanowski Explains GPS

Bartosz Ciechanowski writes long, detailed explanatory articles about physics, math and engineering that are full of interactive, animated diagrams. His article on GPS, posted last January, digs down into all its fundamentals, from the principles of trilateration to the orbital mechanics of GPS satellites to exactly what a GPS signal consists of. “It’s fascinating how much complexity and ingenuity is hidden behind the simple act of observing one’s location in a mapping app on a smartphone. What I find particularly remarkable is how many different technological advancements were needed for GPS to work.”

Spacecraft Will Test Satnav Reception from Lunar Orbit

More on the astonishing idea that Earth-orbiting GNSS satellites can be used for navigation at the Moon. The European Space Agency reports that among the instruments carried by the upcoming Lunar Pathfinder commercial mission will be a 1.4 kg satnav receiver that will test its ability to receive GPS and Galileo signals from lunar orbit. “Satnav position fixes from the receiver will be compared with conventional radio ranging carried out using Lunar Pathfinder’s X-band transmitter as well as laser ranging performed using a retroreflector contributed by NASA and developed by the KBR company.” Lunar Pathfinder is currently scheduled to launch in 2024.

Previously: Many Moon MapsCan GPS Be Used on the Moon?

America’s Overdependence on GPS

GPS signals are relied upon by critical parts of our infrastructure, from transportation to communications to agriculture to financial markets. But those signals are easily spoofed or jammed and, at least in the United States, have no real backup (despite legislation mandating one by last year). Kate Murphy’s opinion piece in the New York Times not only serves as a summary of the problem, and a warning, it also does so in the most mainstream of newspapers: most of what I’ve read on the subject has been in the business, tech and science media. More people will see this. [MAPS-L]

Previously: GPS Is Easy to Disrupt, and the Consequences of Disruption Are Serious; A GPS Spoofing Mystery in Shanghai; The Economic Impact of GPS—and GPS Outages; The Russians Are Spoofing! The Russians Are Spoofing!

Garmin’s Slow Recovery from Last Week’s Ransomware Attack

Engadget reports that Garmin’s services are starting to come back online after last week’s ransomware attack:

[I]t looks like things are slowly but surely coming back to life. Yesterday, activity-tracking app Strava confirmed that it was again able to send workout data to Garmin’s Connect service. […] But a quick look at Garmin’s system status page shows there are still plenty of issues across its platform.

Unfortunately, Garmin’s relative lack of communication around these issues means we still don’t know exactly what went wrong or when users can expect things to be back to normal. A few other key services, like registering a new device, are also back up and running, but if you’re still experiencing oddities with your Garmin devices, you’ll have to keep being patient.

Garmin’s FAQ on the outage is not particularly forthcoming.

Previously: Garmin’s Online Services Hit by Ransomware Attack.

Update, 1:48 PM: Garmin has issued a statement confirming that “it was the victim of a cyber attack that encrypted some of our systems on July 23, 2020.” There is no sign that customer data was affected, and they expect a return to normal within a few days. [Engadget]

Garmin’s Online Services Hit by Ransomware Attack

Garmin’s online services have been hit by a ransomware attack, TechCrunch reports, with outages still ongoing as of this writing. “The incident began late Wednesday and continued through the weekend, causing disruption to the company’s online services for millions of users, including Garmin Connect, which syncs user activity and data to the cloud and other devices. The attack also took down flyGarmin, its aviation navigation and route-planning service.” Email and call centres are also reportedly out of operation.

Four Articles on Navigating Outdoors

Outside’s Andrew Skurka has posted a four-part series on the skills and tools required to navigate outdoors (remember outdoors?), which in general means knowing how not to get lost. In part one, “A Backpacker’s Guide to Maps,” Skurka recommends what kind of maps to take with you: paper maps, mainly, of various scales, but with digital maps as a backup. Part two, “The Gear You Need to Navigate in the Backcountry,” looks at equipment: not just GPS, but also basics like a compass, altimeter and a watch. In part three, “How to Master Navigational Storytelling,” is about developing a narrative of the route you’re taking to avoid getting lost. Finally, Skurka offers a checklist of skills to test yourself against.

Previously: The Lost Art of Finding Our Way.

Can GPS Be Used on the Moon?

More on the question of whether GPS can be used for navigation on the lunar surface—that is to say the existing constellations of Earth-orbiting GNSS satellites, not a new constellation of satellites around the moon. A new study suggests that the answer is yes: GPS and other navigation systems could be used.

Cheung and Lee plotted the orbits of navigation satellites from the United States’s Global Positioning System and two of its counterparts, Europe’s Galileo and Russia’s GLONASS system—81 satellites in all. Most of them have directional antennas transmitting toward Earth’s surface, but their signals also radiate into space. Those signals, say the researchers, are strong enough to be read by spacecraft with fairly compact receivers near the moon. Cheung, Lee and their team calculated that a spacecraft in lunar orbit would be able to “see” between five and 13 satellites’ signals at any given time—enough to accurately determine its position in space to within 200 to 300 meters. In computer simulations, they were able to implement various methods for improving the accuracy substantially from there.

A mini-network of relays—a couple of satellites in lunar orbit, say—could improve accuracy further. [Geography Realm]

Previously: Many Moon Maps.

GPS Glitch Grounds GoPro Drones

GoPro KarmaGoPro’s Karma drone, released in October 2016 and discontinued in January 2018 (when GoPro announced it was getting out of the drone business), has apparently fallen prey to the GPS rollover bug: they’ve been grounded since the new year. See coverage at DP Review, Engadget and The Verge, as well as  discussions at GoPro’s support website.

GoPro says they’re “actively troubleshooting” the issue; I have to say I’m surprised that a relatively new gadget—between two to three years old—could be hit by a once-every-19.7-year bug.

Previously: Happy GPS Week Rollover!

Beidou, China’s Satellite Navigation System, to Be Complete by June

Beidou logoChina’s Beidou satellite navigation system—a competitor to GPS like Russia’s GLONASS and Europe’s Galileo—will be complete by June 2020, when the constellation’s final two satellites are launched, the Associated Press reports. Twenty-four satellites have already been orbited. Whereas the first two iterations of Beidou offered regional coverage, this third iteration will cover the globe when complete. [Engadget, TechCrunch]

GPS Is Easy to Disrupt, and the Consequences of Disruption Are Serious

In an article in the December 2019 issue of Scientific American, now available online, Paul Tullis looks at the problem of GPS hacking, or spoofing—how easy it is to do, how vulnerable GPS is to it, and the consequences we’d face if GPS was disrupted on a broad level. It’s essential but scary reading. The potential scenarios Tullis describes are far more serious than the instances of GPS spoofing we’ve seen so far. It’s not just about navigation: a lot of critical infrastructure relies on GPS timestamps.

Tullis points out that other GNSS systems have terrestrial-based backup systems; GPS does not, despite a 15-year-old directive to build an eLORAN backup that would put out a signal too strong to spoof.

Previously: A GPS Spoofing Mystery in Shanghai; The Russians Are Spoofing! The Russians Are Spoofing!

A GPS Spoofing Mystery in Shanghai

Someone is spoofing GPS signals in Shanghai, and we’re not entirely sure why they’re doing it, or how. One ostensibly bizarre theory: sand thieves trying to obfuscate illegal dredging by zonking out the GPS received by other ships’ AIS transponders. But how they’re redesignating ship (and bicycle) GPS locations into riverside circles, rather than, say, shifting everyone’s position a few kilometres away, has not yet been figured out. [MetaFilter]

Previously: The Russians Are Spoofing! The Russians Are Spoofing!

GPS Units: Still a Thing

Wirecutter’s Medea Giordano argues that even in the age of smartphones with built-in map apps, there’s still a place in your car for a dedicated GPS device: “there are cases when a phone just doesn’t cut it—say, in rural areas where coverage is questionable, or if you simply don’t want to drain your phone’s battery and data plan. Or when you’ve just found it frustrating to use a phone for long trips, like I have.”