Who Moved My Continent? More Importantly, Is GPS Enough to Get the Pizza Here While It’s Still Hot?

Earth is not a passive sphere. It’s dynamic and relentlessly in play. Temblors, volcanic eruptions, seafloor spreading – all these are evidence of plate tectonics, the accepted theory that portions of the outermost shell of the planet are on the march.

Have you ever considered the implications for those of us who are constantly on the go and need help figuring out how to get to our next destination?

australia_satelliteAustralia is a great example of a land mass on the move, apparently creeping 2.7 inches northward a year (North America weighs in with movement of about an inch a year.) According to The Old Salt Blog and National Geographic, among others, it’s a situation that keeps map and chart makers on their toes. At the end of 2016, the necessary shift will be approximately 5 feet. That’s a pittance compared to shifts like in 1994, when the position of the continent was shifted on maps and charts by a whopping 656 feet!

Increasingly, it’s also becoming a challenge for the industries that employ the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), commonly referred to as GPS, to make and sell their products. “With satellite-based GPS navigators common in most cars, trucks and cell phones, a discrepancy between system maps and the position established by GPS can make a significant difference all across the continent of Australia,” writes Rick Spilman in The Old Salt Blog.

“Without regular adjustments, roads, harbors, rivers and mountains won’t line up with the GPS coordinates,” he adds. “Whether navigating in narrow channels, routing trucks across the more remote sections of the outback or ordering a pizza delivery in Sydney, a 600-foot-plus continental drift is best avoided if possible.”

While satellite-based GPS is the main source of accurate navigation data for most manned and unmanned navigation and positioning systems, the bottom line is that we still need additional sources of navigation data to know exactly where we really are in GPS-denied environments, like driving through a tunnel, along a tree-lined street, under the sea, or on a shifting land mass.

“This type of shifting is coming more into focus as GPS systems get more accurate. The most advanced technology can now pinpoint a location to a matter of inches. Although most consumer cellphones don’t have that level of accuracy (yet), the technology is being used in other ways, including by farmers who spray fields with precision agriculture and self-driving vehicles.” – National Geographic

Inertial navigation sensors, which don’t rely on satellite arrays and cannot be blocked or jammed, hold some of the answers. In that regard, KVH continues to help engineers push the boundaries of technology by providing high-performance Fiber Optic Gyro (FOG)-based inertial sensors necessary to enhance GNSS navigation. KVH’s highly accurate FOG-based Inertial Navigation Systems (INS), and Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) are used as core processors in manned navigation applications, as well as numerous autonomous and unmanned navigation and control systems to provide additional sensor data to meet precise navigation requirements in demanding environments such as subsea and other GPS-denied locations

In other words, with the right combination of navigation sensors – inertial sensors, and GPS/GNSS, for instance – you’re guaranteed not to take a wrong turn. And that’s good news for the pizza delivery guy, and all of us modern-day navigators


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About Chris Watson 98 Articles
Chris is the senior director of marketing for KVH Industries. A lifelong sailor and storyteller, he's a self-professed geek who finds all of this technical stuff fascinating.


  1. This is an excellent article detailing developments by KVH regarding systems like its high-performance Fiber Optic Gyro (FOG)-based inertial sensors necessary to enhance GNSS navigation for use in determining exact locations. This is a great development and I look forward to future follow-up articles regarding this development.

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