Four individuals who played a key part in the creation of GPS have been awarded the 2019 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize)
Dr Bradford Parkinson, Hugo Fruehauf and Richard Schwartz, together with Anna Marie Spilker, accepting on behalf of her late husband, Professor James Spilker, Jr were presented with their £1million prize by the Prince of Wales during the Buckingham Palace ceremony.
QEPrize Foundation chairman Lord Browne stated: “Our laureates’ success was the result of inter-disciplinary collaboration, a drive for excellence, and an ability to turn the fruits of scientific discovery into practical solutions. That is what engineers do.”
An estimated 4billion people around the world use GPS, allowing smartphone apps to track disease outbreaks, self-driving tractors can optimise crop harvests, and sports teams can improve team performance. New applications for GPS continue to be unveiled for various industries, while its annual economic value has been estimated to be $80 billion for the USA alone.
GPS – or Global Positioning System – combines a constellation of at least 24 orbiting satellites with ground stations and receiving devices. Each satellite broadcasts a radio signal containing its location and the time from an extremely accurate onboard atomic clock.
GPS receivers need signals from at least four satellites to determine their position; they measure the time delay in each signal to calculate the distance to each satellite, then use that information to pinpoint the receiver’s location on earth.
Parkinson – dubbed the ‘father of GPS’ – led the development, design, and testing of the system. Fruehauf developed the highly accurate, miniaturised atomic clock, that was a foundational component of the system. Schwartz engineered a satellite hardened to resist intense radiation in space, with a lifespan three times greater than expected. Spilker was the main designer of the GPS civil signal and, with his team at Stanford Telecommunications, built the receiver that processed the first GPS satellite signals.
The honour presented to the four pioneers was accompanied by the announcement of the winner of the Create the Trophy competition. This is presented annually for an outstanding design for the QEPrize Trophy created by a 14 to 24-year-old . This year’s winning design was by 17-year-old Jack Jiang from Hong Kong.
Photo: QEPrize 2019 recipients (l-r) Anna Marie Spilker (on behalf of Professor James Spilker, Jr) , Dr. Bradford Parkinson, Hugo Fruehauf and Richard Schwartz