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UK 'dangerously dependent on GPS'

The UK is already "dangerously dependent" on the GPS satellite navigation system, a report by engineers has claimed.

Back-up systems are often inadequate, while equipment which can illegally jam systems is easily and cheaply available, the report from the Royal Academy of Engineering added.

With Global Navigation Space Systems (GNSS) affecting such things as road, rail and shipping equipment, a system failure could "just conceivably cause loss of life", said Dr Martyn Thomas, chairman of the academy's GNSS working group.

He went on: "The UK is already dangerously dependent on GPS. GPS and other GNSS are so useful and so cheap to build into equipment that we have become almost blindly reliant on the data they give us.

"A significant failure of GPS could cause lots of services to fail at the same time, including many that are thought to be completely independent of each other."

The report said that GNSS is vulnerable to deliberate or accidental interference, with people jamming systems or equipment being affected by solar flares.

Sometimes faulty information from a system failure is so wrong that it would be easily spotted, the report said.

But it added that the real threat lies in "dangerously misleading" results which may not seem obviously wrong. In such a situation, a ship, say, could be directed only slightly off course by faulty data but could then be steering into danger.

Helping to launch the report, Bob Cockshott, of the Digital Systems Knowledge Transfer Network, said there is a whole generation of road users who cannot read maps and cannot operate without satnav.

He went on: "Dependency on GPS is growing and jammers are getting easier to obtain. We expect this problem to become more severe."

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