Close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades... --MW Gore announces improvements to civilian GPS system 'An engine of economic growth' March 30, 1998 Web posted at: 10:36 p.m. EST (0336 GMT) WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Global Positioning System, which provides pinpoint location information around the world to the U.S. military, will soon provide the same accurate data to civilians thanks to an upgrade announced Monday by Vice President Al Gore. He said the government will expand the number of signals available for civilian use from one to three. That should overcome atmospheric distortion that affects the current lone civilian signal by providing companion channels to check for accuracy. The announcement builds on another one made in 1996, when the Clinton administration said that over the course of the next decade, it would eliminate small errors intentionally inserted into GPS to guard against its misuse by non-Pentagon users. Taken together, the changes mean that by the middle of the next decade, hand-held GPS receivers sold to civilians should soon be able to pinpoint locations within 33 feet -- 10 times as close as the current range of 325 feet. The hand-held units are already used by outdoorsmen and are beginning to be featured in new and rental automobiles for use in emergencies or to provide directions to lost drivers. "GPS has become an engine of economic growth and efficiency as businesses and consumers are continually developing new and creative applications of the system," Gore said in a statement. "We will continue to do everything we can to protect these GPS signals and promote GPS applications for commercial, public safety and national security interests." Cloaked signals The Pentagon spent $10 billion developing the Global Positioning System, which works off information from 24 satellites positioned around the Earth. Those satellites transmit signals giving the satellite's location and the time of the transmission. A GPS receiver uses that data to calculate the satellite's relative position and, consequently, the receiver's position. The military inserted errors in the current system's timing signal to protect its troops. The receivers they use filter out the errors, a process called "selective availability." Both Gore and President Clinton announced in 1996 that they wanted to make GPS information more accessible to the public and private enterprise, in part by eliminating selective availability by 2006. The new system would provide the same protection for the military by eliminating service for entire regions in times of war. While the military currently has use of two GPS signals, civilians can receive only one. The second signal, which Gore said would be operational by 2005, may be most useful in the public safety arena because of its improved accuracy. The third civil signal, whose operational date has not yet been determined, will primarily be of use to scientific users and surveyors, because a total of three GPS signals would allow for even better accuracy than one or two signals, the vice president said. The changes will take some time to implement because they will require new satellites and new receivers. The satellites are routinely changed every 7 1/2 years. Existing GPS receivers will still work with the new system, although they will not provide the improved accuracy. Copyright 1998 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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