Application - New, Education

GNSS/Geomatics education – Prospects and challenges

Mar 2019 | No Comment

Issues related to GNSS jamming, interference and spoofing continues to be an important area to be investigated

Prof Luiz Paulo Souto Fortes

Department of Cartographic Engineering, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Geosciences, along with many other professional fields, have been deeply impacted during the past couple of decades by a quick and broad technological evolution, which has been responsible not only for the replacement of classical measurement methods (e.g, from geodetic triangulation to GNSS surveying), but also for the birth of new applications, like study of vertical crust movements in the Amazon due to the seasonal hydrological cycle in the region.

This evolution can be especially noted in the context of Geodesy, with the current accurate measurement and analysis of the lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere. Hence Geodesy can be defined nowadays as the science to study the shape of the Earth, its orientation in space, and its gravity field, as well as the changes of these properties with time. This scenario has led Geodesy to be considered one of the sciences to measure global climate change. Many tools have made this possible, most of them based on Satellite Geodesy, like Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR), Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), Doppler Orbitography and Radiopositioning Integrated by Satellite (DORIS), Satellite Gravimetry and the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS). The Global Geodetic Observing System (GGOS), of the International Association of Geodesy (IAG), is an initiative to provide the geodetic infrastructure necessary for monitoring the Earth system and global change research.

This fast technological evolution scenario brings a challenge to educators, as students need to be taught and learn subjects that could support their understanding and use of methods and technologies that are going to be available only a few years after they finish their undergraduate courses. So, it is more important than ever to help students to build a solid theoretical/conceptual background in all subjects, especially Mathematics, Physics, Geodesy, Remote Sensing, and Digital Mapping, in order to allow them to fully explore themselves new technologies that will show up in the future. Additionally, a solid knowledge in information technologies tools is very desirable. And considering that we live in a more and more globalized world, ability in English language is a must for students from countries that do not have this language as their native one.

In terms of career opportunities, it is worth to recall Gewin´s comment in “Naturejobs” section of Nature´s Jan 22, 2004 edition ( nature/journal/v427/n6972/full/nj6972-376a.html) about the US Department of Labor identifying geotechnology as one of the three most important emerging and evolving fields at that time, along with nanotechnology and biotechnology.

Since then it has been possible to witness several technological developments which are giving users access to new capabilities in terms of positioning and imaging, confirming the above prognosis. Smartphones that allow users to get pseudorange and, in some cases, carrier phase observations, along with dual frequency GNSS chips; the availability of new GNSS systems, like Galileo and BeiDou, to be completed around 2020, transmitting improved signals, making possible to have up to 40 satellites in view – meaning more measurements, better satellite geometry and thus better accuracy and reliability, with these advancements coupled with observations transmitted in real time by continuous operating GNSS networks in some countries, will literally put in non-specialized users hands the necessary tool to measure positions with up to centimeter level accuracy. Drones, using navigation and attitude sensors along with visible and non-visible imaging cameras and even LiDAR, being used in many geomatics applications, are other good examples of new tools which are requiring more and more professionals to develop, teach and properly use them. This situation creates a positive scenario for the geomatics profession currently and in the future.

In spite of that, it is possible to hear some colleagues worried about the future of the profession, as “new technological tools could replace us”. In this case, one should compare it with the medicine profession – even with the huge amount of information on diseases, drugs and treatments available on internet nowadays, it is not recommendable to anyone to decide not to see a medical doctor when getting ill! In the same way, a geomatics engineer needs to be involved in any project where positioning (with all ranges of accuracy) and mapping is implicitly or explicitly required. As an example of the importance of this, one can mention a dangerous accident with an underground gas pipe in São Paulo, Brazil, in 2001, hit by a construction machine guided by a GPS sensor, as the pipe was shown in a map using a reference system other than WGS84!

In terms of research, in addition to the advancement topics mentioned previously, issues related to GNSS jamming, interference and spoofing continues to be an important area to be investigated, considering the very broad and increasing use of GNSS sensors everywhere.

Funding is used to be a critical aspect in any research or project, especially in developing countries. This aspect may get worse during periods of economic recession, which affects all sectors of society, including the academic sector. In all circumstances, cooperation with the industry can be beneficial for both the industry and the academy, making the development of research projects viable and applicable.

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