Let’s Talk Navigation

December 12, 2016 | Author: Julie Curtis

I grew up in a generation where your first car came with Great Britain’s A-Z map and that was the extent of your navigation system! I remember driving from London to see my sister at the University of Birmingham and writing down on a piece of paper all the junctions and turn-offs I needed to not get lost on the way. No mobile phone to help if you got lost, just a map and the hope you were reading it right.

This got me thinking about the history of navigation and how far we have come from the first mapmakers to Capt. James Cook, the great pioneer of navigation who sailed the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to the technology developed by John Harrison, who invented the first clock to keep exact time, it was suddenly possible to measure longitude. Sailors could get latitude (north-south axis of the world) from the sun, moon and stars. Harrison's clock kept exact Greenwich Mean Time, meaning a sailor could determine how many hours they were before or after that time and thus determine their longitude (degrees east to west position) on the globe.

As I looked through the history books of Honeywell I discovered that in the 1920s, through the legacy Honeywell Pioneer Instrument Co., we developed the first navigation system called the earth inductor compass. It determines direction using the principles of electromagnetic induction, with the earth’s magnetic field acting as the induction field for an electric generator. The electrical output of the generator varies depending on its orientation with respect to the Earth's magnetic field. This variation in the generated voltage is measured, allowing the earth inductor compass to determine direction.

Honeywell clearly has deep roots in navigation, and when I first started to work on today’s TALIN inertial land navigator product I had to learn about inertial navigation systems (INS). INS is a navigation aid that uses a computer, motion sensors (accelerometers) and rotation sensors (gyroscopes) to continuously calculate – via dead reckoning – the position, orientation and velocity of a moving object without the need for external reference.

One key advantage of navigating with a TALIN over a magnetic compass is that the Earth’s magnetic field is very weak and can be warped by any surrounding metal or electronic devices. This can cause very large “magnetic heading” errors. TALIN does not rely on measuring Earth’s magnetic field. Instead, its gyros are so sensitive that they can actually feel the Earth turning. The system determines the direction of true north to a fraction of a degree by feeling the Earth turn.

As you would expect, this navigation system was first used on aircraft but then developed further by Honeywell to include ships, spacecraft and defense applications.

The invention of GPS in the late ’70s only increased the accuracy of our navigation products. Let’s not forget the satellites used for GPS are likely to have our ring laser gyro and accelerometer technology on board. Without this technology, the satellites would not be able to rotate and stay in space.

Although GPS can assist our navigation products, it is not required for them to work and maintain their performance levels. What amazed me the most when talking to our technical engineers was the accuracy of our navigation system even in GPS-denied environments. This is particularly important on the battlefield and at sea, where troops are often in areas without GPS.

Honeywell Aerospace has always pushed the limits of technological development and as I look to the future of navigation, I am excited to see where innovation will take us next!

Julie Curtis

Julie Curtis

Julie is a Senior Marketing Specialist in the Defense and Space division of Honeywell Aerospace covering EMEAI (Europe, Middle East, Africa and India) region. Julie joined Honeywell in May 2011 and has a background in events, marketing and public relations in the technology industry. She is based in our Dubai office in the Middle East.

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