GNSS education: Issues and challenges

Feb 2016 | No Comment
Experts share views on issues and challenges of GNSS education

People are needed who are pioneering services and put them to practice

Univ Prof Dr Ing Habil Bernd Eissfeller

Institute of Space Technology and Space Applications, University of Federal Armed Forces Munich, Neubiberg, Germany

The requirements on human resources in GNSS are at least two-fold: On the one hand very specialized engineers are needed; on the other hand generalists are needed who are able to understand the system aspects. Decision makers in institutions and industry need special knowledge in technologies, economics and political strategies.

Key Technology Areas

Satellite navigation like we know it today became only possible over the last 50 years by the integration of several key technology areas: First, we need the ability to build robust satellite platforms with a life-time of 12-15 years. And we need access to space i.e. we need adequate launchers and space transportation systems to reach the MEO (20.000 km) orbit. Secondly, we need the ability to build precise atomic clocks (Rubidium, Cesium, H – Maser, optical clocks in future) and operate them in the satellite orbit for many years. GPS was the first system where spread-spectrum digital signal processing based on BPSK (Binary Phase Shift Keying) was implemented. Thus, thirdly we need the digital technology on hardware and software level to generate the baseband signals and to modulate these finally on one or more carrier frequencies.

This includes the design of electronic and digital payload components. In the design and production of GNSS receivers in the user segment leading-edge semiconductor technology and fast digital signal processing on high – performance micro-processors is a key requirement. Not to forget the ability of high precision orbit determination and prediction (decimeter – accuracy over 24 h) and the modelling and prediction of the deterministic and stochastic drift of atomic clocks. Other important key areas are the propagation of electromagnetic waves on L – band frequencies in the atmosphere of the earth. Corrections for time and frequency based on general and special theory of relativity have to be applied. Last but not least theory and practice of precise geodetic and astronomical reference and time systems is an important element of GNSS.

Disciplines involved

On the technical side of GNSS it is not so difficult to identify the academic and technical disciplines which are involved. However, GNSS has not only a technical dimension but also several non-technical dimensions. Basically the disciplines involved are Aerospace engineering, Communication engineering, Electrical engineering, Informatics, Physics, Mathematics, Geodesy, Product and Service design. Additionally several partly non – technical, more general and soft – skill abilities are necessary. At first people are needed who are by themselves no specialists in the above listed domains but have an overview about the interconnections and the interdependences. These people are often called system engineers. Because the built – up of the space and ground infrastructures in a GNSS (the same holds for the sub-systems) are large projects for several 1000 M $ project managers are needed who are able to keep control of the complex work package structures and the time schedules. They are supported by project controllers who have a commercial background. Because various contracts have to be signed in the development of the space, control and user segments also specialized lawyers are involved. Finally people are needed who are pioneering services and put them to practice.

Status of the current GNSS academic education system

Although GPS development started in the 1970s in military programs academic research in GPS is visible since the early 1980s. A pioneering role was taken over by geodesists because they got aware of the high precision potential of the GPS carrier-phase observable. They discovered that centimeter level accuracy may be obtained by processing the recovered carrier-wavelength of 0.2 m. The US National Geodetic Survey (NGS) in Rockville, MD was among the first surveying institutions to assess the use of GPS for precise point positioning. Many European professors joined the NGS for a sabbatical year in the 80s. When coming back to their home universities they were among the first to establish GPS in research and teaching in the European university system. The same happened in continental US, Canada, Japan and Australia. Thus, geodesy and surveying somehow was the first academic discipline which integrated GPS elements in the study courses. Later when aviation, land and maritime aspect came into the scope of GPS other faculties from aerospace engineering and electrical engineering joined this very compact science community. The roots of the early days in GPS in academic GPS research are still visible: Among others the sustained players on university level in the PNT community are Stanford University, Ohio State University, Ohio University, University of Colorado, University of Calgary, University of Nottingham, Technical University Delft, Technical University Graz, University of New South Wales and my own university. These historical core players have been joined by a lot of new university institutes especially in Asia during the last decade. In general the situation at these universities is that teaching in GNSS is integrated in the more classical study courses like e.g. aerospace engineering. GNSS is usually one special teaching area among many others like aircraft design, space systems technology, structural mechanics, etc. As pointed out earlier GNSS has basically an interdisciplinary nature comprising many key technology areas. This leads to the fact that GNSS research and teaching is distributed among all the different faculties involved. Somehow this is a proliferated situation which is not fulfilling the demands on human resources in institutions and industry.

Future looking options in academic training for GNSS

On the human resources side of GNSS a new professional academic is needed: This specialist could be called “GNSS engineer”. Typically after a B.Sc. in one of the key technology areas he should have an interdisciplinary academic training. He should be able to work on the level of system engineering but if it is required also in a special technical field of satellite navigation. It is quite straight-forward for insider professors to define a study course and the respective curriculum. The level of such a study course would be a M.Sc. in “Satellite Navigation”. Thus, it could be asked: Where is the problem? Many new master courses are and were established in the classical academic faculties.

Integration of GNSS engineering master course into classical faculties

This concept would be the most direct approach. It would be important to integrate such a satellite navigation master in one of the larger engineering faculties like information technology or electrical engineering. For instance a faculty of geodesy would be too small. The financial issue for such a master course is solved because it would be fully integrated into the university infrastructure. However, the problem could be the awareness of the faculty members on the importance of GNSS. Usually the larger faculties try to cope with highest priority with some megatrends in their discipline like e.g. green energy. A decision process is necessary to appoint specialist professors and the supporting staff for a satellite navigation master. The minimum number of students in such master should be about 30 first-semester students. Although currently there is a high demand on satellite navigation engineers in Europe in none of the big German (European) universities an implementation of such a M.Sc. happened up-to now because believe is that the area of satellite navigation is too special.

Integration of GNSS engineering in classical faculties as an executive master course

A first alternative approach would be to implement a so-called executive master. This master is only partly integrated into a faculty mainly with respect to the curriculum side. The students in this case have already an employment contract in agencies or industry. The executive master consists of presence stages at the university and idle phases where the students are doing their job in industry or agencies. The employer will pay a certain amount of fee to the university to support for the budgetary issue. These fees from employers could be augmented by various ways of sponsoring. The disadvantage for this approach is that the organizational and contractual effort for all parties involved is very high.

Implementation of GNSS international master courses

This concept starts from the assumption that no university on a national level would be able or willing to establish a specialized master course on GNSS by its own. The idea is then to group a certain number of leading professors from different international universities together. An organizing university is providing the infrastructure (curriculum issues, lecturing rooms, board and lodging). The various financial issues like travel expenses for the lecturers have to be solved. This approach requires a contract between the universities involved which is not easy to obtain in the administrations. Alternatively an external funding layer could be used. In Europe an international master was e.g. established at ENAC (L’Ecole Nationale de l’Aviation Civile) in Toulouse by funding of the European GNSS Agency (GSA).

External GNSS training courses

This possibility is more or less a standard. The concept is that employees are taking part in timely limited training courses (1 to 3 days) besides their jobs. On worldwide basis a lot of public and private providers offer such courses in the GNSS field. In this context the ESA Summer School on GNSS has to be mentioned.


Why Surveyors are GNSS Experts

Chris Rizos

Professor, Geodesy & Navigation, Surveying & Geospatial Engineering, School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), Sydney Australia

Its been a claim whose veracity can now be confirmed. Over the past decade or so I have noticed that the GNSS experts, commentators, advocates and decisionmakers with whom I deal with in a variety of academic, research, government and commercial circles, have something of a similar background. They have gained their GNSS knowledge and expertise by virtue of receiving a Surveying or Geomatics education. From the highest international scientific bodies, through international policy and professional organisations, to regional and national committees that deal with GNSS matters, I find colleagues that have remarkably similar career trajectories as myself. I am of course referring to office bearers and members of organisations as diverse as the International Association of Geodesy (and its services, in particular the International GNSS Service), the International Committee on GNSS, the Committee of Experts UN-GGIM (Global Geospatial Information Management), the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG), a number of national Institutes of Navigation, and many other boards, committees and organisations. We all were attracted to GPS in the 1980s, and have maintained our passion and commitment to GNSS ever since. How is this so?

The first civilian applications of GPS were in the fields of Geodesy and Surveying. GPS in the early 1980s offered a revolutionary new technology for coordinating geodetic control marks to very high accuracy. GPS was never designed to satisfy the needs of these disciplines – for centimetrelevel accuracy – hence the 1980s was a fertile period of innovation that led to the development of reliable carrier phase-based differential GPS positioning technologies and methodologies. This spirit of innovation to support high accuracy GNSS positioning continues to this day. We now can see the fruits of that innovation, in the global investment in CORS (Continuously Operating Reference Stations) infrastructure, multi- GNS/multi-frequency “high end” GNSS hardware, and services supporting “RTK” (Real-Time Kinematic) cnetimetrelevel accuracy positioning in seconds (under favourable observing conditions). Without this Geodesy and Surveying market driving this innovation we would not have seen the explosion of use of GNSS for critical applications such as machine guidance and control in construction, agriculture, mining, port operations, and, in the near future, on our roads within autonomous vehicles.

Survey graduates have been educated in the principles, technology and practices of high accuracy GNSS positioning since the mid-1980s. The first textbooks were written, and the first conferences and workshops were run, to support this market segment and applications discipline. The university departments offering Surveying or Geomatics programmes also started research in the relevant topic areas, and soon were producing PhD and Masters graduates who went on to become leaders in academia, government and the private sector. What is interesting is that this lead has never really been pegged back by electronics or RF engineers, or signal processing or applied mathematics experts. GNSS expertise is concentrated in the hands of those with surveying backgrounds to an extent that belies their relatively small numbers. They may not understand the intricacies of digital codes, or tracking channels, or the arcane art of RF signal propagation, but they have their own cache of skills. These include mastery of carrier phase measurement modelling, optimal estimation algorithms, error analysis and mitigation, ambiguity resolution, datum definition, network processing, geodesy, and the operational matters that must be managed to ensure users have consistent quality, high accuracy GNSS positioning solutions, tailored to their particular application.

You see, working with high accuracy GPS from the 1980s, and the continued innovation in the technologies and methodologies underpinning this level of performance is like being associated with Formula One racing. It means that all “lesser” demanding GNSS applications and technologies are not beyond the knowledge and expertise of the Surveying or Geomatics graduate. That is what I tell surveying students during lectures at my university. That is what I truly believe, because that is what happened to me, and to my contemporaries. The exciting new technologies and applications that will develop as we move from a GPSonly to a multi-constellation GNSS era offer exciting opportunities to our discipline. The future of GNSS is more than just microelectronics and signal processing, and accepting GNSS at face value. What GNSS for Geodesy and Surveying has shown us in the last three decades is that real world GNSS performance is boosted by innovations that address the limitations of standard GNSS solutions. Surveyors have been in the past, are currently, and should remain the “GNSS experts”.


GNSS education has to be the enabler of a virtuous value chain

Prof Fabio Dovis

Politecnico di Torino – Dept. of Electronics and Telecommunications, Italy

Education in Satellite Navigation is still a challenge. The development of new services and applications and the application of GNSS signals in new fields is showing how satellite navigation is at the crossroad of several disciplines. Communications, geomatics, aerospace, Electronics, Laws , are just some of the several aspects that might be the skills required to develop a satellite navigation projects. On one hand my personal experience when dealing with several students with an ICT background either in classes of satellite navigation or in the courses of the Specializing Master in Navigation and Related Applications ( introduction) of Politecnico di Torino in Italy, is that they find always a specific aspect that enables their curiosity about the topic. Nevertheless, such a multidisciplinary complexity requires to the teachers to be able to provide a global view of the implications of every single element in the overall system, from the receiver to the satellite antenna.

The European experience of the latter years, is that there is a large interest by professionals in getting trained in this field, that is somehow new, and it’s becoming more and more popular.

However, there is maybe an even more global challenge for the instructors. Even if basics of satellite navigation are consolidated, there is an ongoing evolution in the research field driven by the development of new systems, and by a kind “competition” both at system level and at user level (new receivers, new added value features, position reliability and confidence, new services, etc…).

GNSS education cannot then be limited to the basics or to train “users” of the different systems, but it has to be the enabler of a virtuous value chain and drive the innovation creation, with also the ultimate objective of pushing the evolution of the market.

In Europe, where the Galileo program is seen as a new opportunity by many companies, this aspect is a key factor to grant competitiveness, and it can stem by a strengthening of the higher levels of education (post-graduate and Ph.Ds). In fact, Galileo, EGNOS and the satellite navigation field at large, are affected by a lack of skills and competence; from an end-users perspective, the space segment, which is nowadays well under development, is only a part of a more complex knowledge system, needed to exploit the satellite navigation opportunities. Communications, applications development skills, creativity, and business competences are relevant and essential to leverage on the Galileo and EGNOS initiative to make Europe a credible player in this international context and satellite navigation a concrete asset for the European economy in terms of innovation, market development resulting in job creations. With respect to the growing competition and resource optimization the sustainable success of industry is crucially linked to effective identification and transfer of knowledge, innovative technologies and solutions available. Education is not a “per se”, but it is strictly related to the development of leading edge research and technology in the industrial world. Only a strong interaction and coordination among education, research, and industry yields a capacity building in the field of satellite navigation and related applications.

For this reason, in the past years, several projects at European level (the latter of which is the e-KnoT project funded by the GSA) ( aimed at improving the number and the quality of PhDs in GNSS, coordinating the efforts of different universities by the creation of a Satellite navigation University Network (SUN) (www.gnsssun. eu ) and supporting specific educational initiatives for students addressing the technologies related to GNSS, but also the other multi-disciplianry topics.

These initiative assured excellent results in terms of quality of training and cooperation between universities where the GNSS research is consolidated by several years and newcomers, however they also highlighted some difficulties in obtaining a generalized involvement of the industrial world in supporting such educational initiatives. Compared to other sectors and to other area of the world, commitment of the industrial world toward specialized education in GNSS is weaker. There is still work to do in raising awareness about the relevance of a proper education to fully exploit the GNSS opportunities.


The ultimate goal of the university is creating innovation and new values

Nobuaki Kubo

Tokyo Uni versity of Marine Science and Technology, Tokyo, Japan

Japan suffers from a lack of GNSS education opportunities because very few teachers are able to teach GNSS at the university level. Many researchers in Japan consider GNSS to be just a navigation tool and not a research object. Furthermore, compared to their international counterparts, Japanese universities do not have dedicated Geomatics departments. There are signs, however, that the number of talented young teachers and engineers has been increasing in recent years. Instead of universities, some companies and research institutes have provided training and development of GNSS receivers and navigation software. I am going to share my views on GNSS education, based on my 14-year teaching experience at the university level. My university is concerned with marine navigation, and the importance of knowing one’s location at sea is a matter of course. Although it is impossible to navigate a ship without knowing its current location, we tend to forget the existence of GNSS because it is like the air for us. GNSS has been one of the most important systems used for ship navigation for many years.

GNSS is not like other basic subjects at university because it encompasses a variety of subjects, such as wireless communication, physics, statistics, and geoscience. In addition to basic subject knowledge, the ability to develop software is essential to a successful career in GNSS because GNSS itself is a kind of software package. I am not belittling the role of the hardware of a GNSS receiver, but the role of software far outweighs it. Basically, students of electrical, aerospace, and survey engineering are expected to enter the GNSS field. The GNSS field can be divided into three divisions for students: GNSS receiver development, GNSS navigation software development, and GNSS application engineer. Since the market demand for GNSS in Japan is projected to exceed supply over the next 10 years, especially in the development of QZSS, employment prospects are not bad at present. Moreover, the use of GNSS applications is quite popular worldwide and it is easy for students to get involved with GNSS. Therefore, the motivation of students of GNSS courses is relatively high. Positioning is essential to our lives and GNSS is going to be the main system to provide positioning solutions in the future. It is perhaps difficult to stimulate students regarding innovations in GNSS, since most of the fundamental as well as innovative GNSS techniques have already been developed by many researchers and engineers. However, studying GNSS is still very important because there are new applications of GNSS to contribute to society. GNSS is a key technology for applications that require the knowledge of location and is sometimes a thankless task. For example, generation of precise maps is fundamental to all the countries. The integration of other types of sensors with GNSS technology is becoming quite important because GNSS is very vulnerable to interference and spoofing. If we educate and train students well in the field of GNSS, they will support the future of our country because GNSS cannot easily be replaced with new positioning technology in the future.

As mentioned earlier, the GNSS has a wide scope, and it is impossible to cover all aspects of GNSS during a 2-year master’s course. Even in the case of a 5-year Ph.D. course, it will be impossible to learn everything. I suggest that students focus on their favorite applications such as ship, automobile, UAV, train, and geodesy. They can then identify a specific research objective according to their selection. The students will also be given the opportunity to collaborate with a company or a research institute on certain research topics. Since companies are closely involved with society, students will be able to learn GNSS as well as the needs of society through this collaborative work. These projects also offer attractive salaries to students, who do not have time to take up part-time jobs. The companies involved will benefit from this arrangement by getting the know-how at a reasonable cost.

The ultimate goal of the university is creating innovation and new values. GNSS itself will not be an innovative technology because USA invented GPS more than 35 years ago, but GNSS could be used in innovative applications in the future.


Lack of ability to adapt the current Geomatics Engineering education programs to the upcoming fields

Reha Metin Alkan

Professor, Department of Geomatics Engineering, Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey

Regarding the improvements in technology, the Geomatics Engineering has become more automated and human in-dependent science and discipline. The automated instruments created a sense like there will be no more need for the human geomatics engineers on the related fields and people. However, it is still obvious that the geomatics engineers are required to answer the questions that includes the where the word. With the advent on computers and developed software which are designed by the geomatics engineers, the use of classical geodesy decreased, but not totally eliminated. It should be taken into consideration that most of the automated systems of instruments and software only work on general conditions that may not be applied on every problem. That is why the students and the engineers should be encouraged to develop themselves more in coding and designing the solutions for specific cases. The technologic developments should not be accepted as a replacement of the geomatics engineers or the engineering itself but should be accepted as the opportunities as ease of application, implementation on the work hours and conditions. So, it will also spare the time of Geomatics Engineers to study on coding of software and development of new technology on their study area.

The advances on technology has also opened new study areas for Geomatics engineers like GNSS applications, general navigation, indoor navigation, extragalactic object mapping, disaster management, GIS, engineering surveying etc. and seems to open more areas in the upcoming future.

The main problem on this issue is the ability to adapt the current Geomatics Engineering education programs to the recent and upcoming fields. Some of the higher education institutions still focusing just on the traditional geomatics/ surveying applications and giving less attention for the future development. The main objective of the Geomatics Engineering should be the renovation of the education programs to lead the students on the new trend of technology development on geomatics and help them to adapt their learning and studying styles basically on new application areas. By this way, the motivation of the students can be increased on the Geomatics.


Only a handful of Universities/ Institutions in India have GNSS as a separate course

Dr Anindya BOSE

Department of Physics, The University of Burdwan, Golapbag, Burdwan, INDIA

GNSS with its technical advantages and economic opportunities has become very popular and new systems are being implemented by many countries to exploit the potentials. GNSS is a classic example for case study for the students as many theoretical concepts may be seen implemented in a fully functional, real-time extremely successful system. Importance for learning the theory and practices of GNSS is increasing with the applications and possibilities of it. GNSS, with a growing business, would provide career opportunities for a large number of students of Physics, Engineering, Geography, Earth Sciences and allied subjects. The students would have ample opportunity to contribute in the field as working professionals or as new entrepreneurs. Increased use of handheld devices, PDAs, PNDs and the developed applications is enhancing the opportunities. For the growing L-commerce, industry requires more trained manpower to efficiently exploit the market demand in time. Users, at the same time, need best efforts and skills from the professionals capable to cater theirs needs and expectations. Therefore, capacity building through education in GNSS is a major issue for all the stakeholders, especially for countries like India with growing business and availability of signals from multiple GNSS.

Unfortunately, to the best of information, only a handful of Universities/ Institutions in India have GNSS as a separate course/ part of the curriculum in baccalaureate or in post graduate studies. In most of the cases, GNSS is introduced to the students during their under/ post graduate internships/ mandatory project works or for their Ph D dissertations. A larger part of the academic endeavour in GNSS by the academia is concentrated more on the use of GNSS for atmospheric research in comparison to other counterparts- location based or time transfer applications, receiver and application developments. The later issues are mostly dealt by the Govt. research organizations and private industries, where the professionals start working only after finishing their education and therefore both the industry/ organization and the professionals need to engage new effort and time in training on GNSS. Simultaneously, aspiring and working young professionals do not have much opportunity to get themselves trained formally in GNSS. Therefore, a large gap exists between the demand and supply of trained manpower for the GNSS industry and research- suitable formal GNSS education from academic institutions and Universities would help in bridging this.

Other than the previously mentioned issue, other major problems associated with GNSS education in India are (i) not proper importance on introduction of GNSS and the potentials of it, (ii) less popularity of other GNSS systems in comparison to GPS, (iii) lack of enough funding for the Universities in setting up of a fully equipped GNSS laboratory and facility for education and training, (iv) lack of uniform GNSS curriculum both for the students and the working professionals, (iii) lack of regular industry-academia interaction to identify the current market needs and trends – this is an important issue also from the industry point of view. It is proven that, synergy among GNSS industry and academia has benefited both the sides to cater their needs and demands. (iv) lack of networking and established discussion platform for the teachers, researchers and professionals of GNSS from academia and industries to discuss the academic and research related issues and resource sharing. Till now, small sessions in few conferences on electronics and allied topics provide some opportunity of limited interaction and networking.

Currently, effort has been initiated by various agencies to address some of these issues. With efforts initiated by United Nations Office of the Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), one international centre for training in the field of GNSS has been set up in India with active support from Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Govt of India. A standard curriculum for GNSS education proposed by UNOOSA is readily available in the public domain. Few Indian Universities have introduced GNSS as a part of the curriculum and tailor-made courses for students and professionals are being offered by Universities and Govt R&D organizations. Industries are showing interest for collaboration with academia. One major contribution in GNSS popularization for education and R&D is seen from ISRO where few of the first IRNSSGPS- GGAN enabled receivers are being distributed to 15 academic institutions and Universities for field trial and experiments.

To exploit the full potentials for improvement of human life quality, more efforts in GNSS education are needed. Academia should enhance scopes for education and need-oriented research. Students need to utilise existing and upcoming opportunities in and outside the country to develop themselves to meet the professional challenges. Indian industries need to take a pro-active role and responsibility here because only through the industries the advantages of GNSS would reach the society benefitting all associated stakeholders. Industry initiatives are required for collaborative efforts with academia for real life problem identification and for utilization of developed expertize. Industry may provide opportunity for students to take up internships with them to have real feel of the demand and should extend financial support and incentives to academia through sponsored research projects. Government need to play a catalytic role here through encouraging and promoting introduction of GNSS curriculum, through identification of socially relevant problems involving use of GNSS and priority in funding for these researches. Govt need to have roles in patronizing GNSS academic forums, in popularization of the topic among students and faculties as a potential career opportunity. Separate professional bodies and forums on GNSS are needed for providing platform for idea and resource sharing, information interchange, and networking.

Advantages of the proposed 400 B€ GNSS market in 2013 and 1.0 GNSS device per capita for the Indian region (GNSS Market Report, Issue 4, European GSA, March 2015) would only be achievable though extensive effort, comprehensive planning and responsibility sharing by all Indian stakeholders for developing and improving the Indian GNSS education scenario.

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