a new GPS-related bug may impact drones, position hold and return to homea new GPS-related bug may impact drones, position hold and return to home

The Y2K bug shocked the IT industry but the fall-out was not as bad as predicted. However, a new potential issue may be about to interrupt the effectiveness of GPS and all devices which depend on or utilize the technology, globally.

Many drones depend entirely on GPS for position hold, automated ‘return to home’ and for planning waypoint missions. Image courtesy of this YouTube video.

On the 6th April 2019, a technical software coding issue related to the way in which GPS receivers decode the signal from satellites may cause numerous devices, with GPS chips inbuilt, to fail to lock on to position. This issue may persist for some older devices following the roll-over period, for others the issue may only be present during the roll-over with full functionality returning shortly after.

The issue, relating to the numbering convention of timestamp data, is detailed in an article by TheRegister which provides a detailed technical summary.

“GPS signals from satellites include a timestamp, needed in part to calculate one’s location, that stores the week number using ten binary bits. That means the week number can have 210 or 1,024 integer values, counting from zero to 1,023 in this case. Every 1,024 weeks, or roughly every 20 years, the counter rolls over from 1,023 to zero. The first Saturday in April will mark the end of the 1,024th week, after which the counter will spill over from 1,023 to zero. The last time the week number overflowed like this was in 1999, nearly two decades on from the first epoch in January 1980.” TheRegister

The scale of this issue could cripple GPS dependent devices and may impact cars, mobile phones, cameras, tracking devices and of course, our beloved drones.

The US Homeland Security department has even issued a formal memorandum concerning this issue, advising those that utilising GPS-dependent devices update their firmware immediately.

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