Tampering with GPS signals can cause big problems in both shipping routes and financial markets, warned experts at a conference on GPS security. The technology is routinely used in navigation and time synchronization nowadays, but signals are left vulnerable to jamming and spoofing.
This is partly because GPS signals are relatively weak: “A GPS satellite emits no more power than a car headlight, and with that it has to illuminate half the Earth’s surface,” said David Last, former president of the Royal Institute of Navigation, to the BBC.
Jamming devices work by broadcasting a signal at the same frequency as GPS, and can be bought for less than $100 online. When researchers set up 20 jamming monitors in locations around the UK, they caught 60 incidents in 6 months. They think most of these are from stolen trucks, where thieves jam the truck’s GPS to keep from broadcasting its location. According to Last, jamming GPS ships on ships isn’t much harder: Tests found that every major system was affected by a device with less than 1/1000 the power of a cell phone. The Financial Times reports:
What’s the News: With Congress yet to pass a budget, the country is facing a government shutdown unless lawmakers reach an agreement by midnight tonight. In addition to shuttering many government offices, the shutdown would likely cause present serious difficulties for federal government-funded research.
Difficulties Such As…
In those volcanoes that kids (or their parents) build for elementary school science fairs, the style is generally simple: There’s one chamber in which the baking soda rests, ready to meet the vinegar and erupt. Most real volcanoes are a little like this, in that they have a single magma chamber that fuels their eruptions.
But not Eyjafjallajökull.
The Icelandic volcano that stirred in March and grounded European air travel has a peculiar kind of plumbing, scientists report today in Nature. Freysteinn Sigmundsson and colleagues combined 20 years’ worth of GPS, satellite, and seismic observations of the volcano see note how it changed over the years—and especially what was happening in the lead-up to this year’s eruption.
Skyhook, the tiny Massachusetts company that created the location software in your iPhone, sued Google this week (pdf). David is charging Goliath with trying to keep its software out of Google’s Android mobile software platform in favor of Google’s own location service, and with encouraging Skyhook’s partners to break contracts.
In other words, Google is leveraging its OS market share to push its own affiliated products and snuff out competitors — kind of like Microsoft did with Internet Explorer on Windows 15 years ago. Yikes. [Wired.com]
Google says it hasn’t had the opportunity to review the legal action, so it has yet to comment.
When you see a flock of birds flying in formation, it might seem like their group dynamics are fairly simple: The one out front leads the way. But does the same birds always take the lead in a group? And do the birds in the back follow the overall leader, or rather the middle managers in front of them?
To find out, Tamás Vicsek and colleagues strapped backpacks equipped with GPS sensors to pigeons for a study out this week in Nature. The lightweight trackers recorded the birds on both solo flights and group flight and measured their positions five times per second. Indeed, Vicsek found, birds fly according to the group pecking order, with the leader out front. When it changed direction, its direct followers would do the same in less than a second, and then the more junior members of the group would respond to the direction of those middle managers.
But there were surprises, too. Sometimes the lead bird wouldn’t fly out front; it may have been tired from leading the pack and needed some time off. So perhaps birds are like cycling teams, occasionally trading off who carries the taxing burden of leading the group.
For more details about the study—including why it’s not as obvious as you might think that the leading bird flies in the front of the group, and why left and right matter so much to pigeons—check out DISCOVER blogger Ed Yong’s post at Not Exactly Rocket Science.
Not Exactly Rocket Science: GPS Backpacks Identify Leaders Among Flocking Pigeons
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Light-detecting backpacks record the complete migration routes of songbirds
80beats: “State of the Birds” Report, and is Climate Change Shrinking Avians?
80beats: To Read the Brain of a Pigeon, Scientists Outfit It with a “Neurologger”
80beats: Tiny Bird Backpacks Reveal the Secrets of Songbird Migration
Image: Zsuzsa Ákos