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GNSS Hotspots

Disposable drones, cyber shark hacks a jet, so over in-car navigation, and an LBS shopping spree.

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Washington, D.C.

UAVs have gone from sci-fi to ho-hum so fast that now the Navy is working on the Kleenex of drones — use it once, throw it away. Named CICADA for Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft, the paperlike gliders fit in your hand and are released in swarms from above. They are programmed with a set of GPS coordinates and that’s it — no motor, no camera, no propulsion system, and only 10 parts. The CICADAs drop quietly and get where they need to go remarkably well. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory dropped some from 11 miles up and they landed within 15 feet of the target. They’re not flimsy, an NRL engineer told the Christian Science Monitor — the only thing that kills them is desert shrubbery. 

Syracuse, New York

√ An April Government Accountability Office report said hackers could exploit in-flight entertainment systems to get access to avionics systems in today’s Internet-connected planes. Software firewalls, said the GAO, can be compromised like “any other software.” The FBI grabbed a cybersecurity researcher, Chris Roberts, off a United 737 flight to New York on April 15 after he had tweeted about the plane’s vulnerabilities and, they say, highjacked the navigation system. The Feds said he hacked Thales and Panasonic systems several times with his MacBook Pro and iPad. He was able to get physical access to the in-flight entertainment system through the Seat Electronic Box using an Ethernet cable, and one time overwrote code in the Thrust Management Computer and commanded the airplane to climb, according to the search warrant affidavit. 

Westlake Village, Los Angeles, California

√ In-car navigation? Meh, buyers say. Most people aren’t too excited about route guidance systems when they think about buying a new car with all the technological bells and whistles. What they do like is safety — collision avoidance, blind-spot detection, and night vision systems. So says an April report by consumer market research firm J.D. Power in their 2015 Tech Choice Study. Why the lack of interest? Possibly because buyers find their car navigation function rather difficult to use, according to a previous study. And possibly because the ubiquitous and frequently updated smartphone does a better job

Silicon Valley, California

Apple’s buying frenzy for small, feisty mapping startups is all over the M & A news. In May, the company bought Coherent Navigation, Bay Area developers of high-precision GNSS technology for consumer applications. Founded by Stanford and Cornell engineers, the startup claims it achieves centimeter-level accuracy and jamming resistance by combining data from GPS and Iridium signals. What does Apple want with high-integrity GPS? Apple gave its standard reply to the New York Times: “We generally don’t discuss our purposes or plans.” The unpleasantness resulting from Apple’s bad iPhone map app in 2012 certainly helped inspire the company’s acquisition of Locationary, PlaceBase, Broadmap, Hotstop, Embark, WiFiSLAM, and other innovators in the LBS arena. And Apple’s new mobile operating system, iOS9, will arrive this fall with a better mapping application, CNBC reports.

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