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Study reveals how screwed we’d be during a GPS outage

Updated Dec 26th, 2019 6:10PM EST
GPS Tracking
Image: Photo by Alex Segre/Shutterstock

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The US government’s National Institutes of Standards and Technology recently decided to sponsor what appears to be the most comprehensive look to date at the value of GPS technology relative to the US economy as a whole. The results also shed some pretty interesting light on how much of a financial blow would result from a widespread outage of GPS technology, whether it’s the result of malicious activity or something like severe weather in space hampering or destroying satellites.

You can probably guess where this is going.

In short, according to the study performed by North Carolina-based RTI International, we could be looking at a $1 billion daily hit to the economy during such an outage.

To perform their analysis, researchers per Ars Technica spoke to more than 200 GPS technology experts in fields that range from agriculture to location services that delivery drivers rely on. One of the interesting things the study turned up is that while some 90 percent of the financial impact from advances in GPS technology has come to be realized only since 2010, some parts of the economy are only just now beginning to either draw value from it or find new uses for it.

“Wireless technology continues to evolve in ways that increase its reliance on highly precise timing, which in turn increases reliance on GPS,” the study notes. “Multiple technological trends — from autonomous cars to the internet of things — will be stretching wireless technology to new limits in the coming years.”

Which brings us to the consequences of an outage.

After 30 days, according to the study, wireless network functionality would fall to 60 percent of its normal level in the best case scenario. And the estimate of a $1 billion per day hit to the economy is just that — an estimate. It could be dramatically higher, especially during certain times of the year when people rely on the technology more than others. During, for example, planting season when farmers use GPS to help them make key decisions about the utilization of their fields.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.