Spotting the trends
Horizon Scanning have become an essential activity for anyone whose business is impacted by technological advances. But how do you know what to look for? Like a stealthy enemy, disruptive technologies are only spotted when they have reached the castle wall.
It is the watchers who matter – not the merely the watching. When the Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN) was founded in 1947, a vice presidents was Deputy Chief of the Air Staff. The president was the Astronomer Royal.
Trends are spotted by tight-knit teams of scientists, engineers and practitioners, not by disparate researchers, study teams and consultants.
This ethos lives on in the RIN’s annual international navigation conference (INC 2017), bringing together a broad church of scientific, technical and operational experience. The event is hosted at the Hilton Brighton Metropole between the 27th-30th November.
One emerging trend is hybrid navigation, a recognition that future systems will have to include not only satellite systems but complimentary technologies to meet the demands of mission-critical applications and the seamless transition from outdoor to indoor navigation. Google is interested but so too are the providers of much of our critical national infrastructure.
It is user demand that is pulling new technologies out of the research lab in to viable products. One such demand is the demand for resilience. The talk is no longer of addressing Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) vulnerabilities but of making more robust position, navigation and timing systems. It is a whole-system issue, not just a desirable characteristic of GNSS.
The Innovate UK, UK Space Agency and RIN report on the economic impact to the UK of losing GNSS, has raised the profile of this issue and laid down the challenge: how to reduce the approximate £1bn/day economic impact of a loss of GNSS.
Is the dominance of navigation by space systems over? Far from it. Satellites are an essential feature of any global service. GNSS systems exploiting innovative space technologies - including nanosats and low earth orbit constellations - will bring new navigation and timing services, tailored to the demands of large infrastructure systems such as transport and energy distribution.
It is with a clear understanding of the limitations of space-based systems together with an appreciation of the capabilities of emerging complimentary technologies that the industry will make real progress in developing new applications with the potential to bring economic growth and other societal benefits.
GNSS has brought navigation technologies in to the hands of most of the population. As dependency on GNSS increases, and new opportunities are identified, history may show that GNSS developed a market for a much broader range of positioning, navigation and timing technologies.
A glance at the INC 2017 programme shows keynote speakers, presenters and exhibitors tackling these challenges. However, the who is just as impressive the what. Academics, service providers and technology companies are evident in the delegate list. Public organisations such as Satellite Applications Catapult will be present. The event is truly international with overseas universities, companies and government agencies well represented.
Even the scientific base is a broad one spanning quantum technologies and neuroscience.
The challenge of autonomous systems
The diversity of the delegate list reflects one other trend: autonomous systems. The challenge is no longer one of making technology usable but of building complex systems where sensors and processors take on the role once performed by a person. Many disciplines and skills are needed to address the challenge.
The world of gadgets is giving way to one of complex automated systems in which we are totally dependent on rather than merely chose to use.
What of the future? A future president of the Royal Institute of Navigation could be a neuroscientist or psychologist; or a quantum physicist or expert in machine learning; or the Astronomer Royal for that matter. When it comes to horizon scanning, it is who is watching that matters.
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