Bradford Parkinson bigraphy, stories - Systems engineer

Bradford Parkinson : biography

February 16, 1935 -

Bradford Parkinson (February 16, 1935) is an American engineer and inventor, and United States Air Force colonel best known as the father of the Global Positioning System (along with Roger L. Easton and Ivan A. Getting).

He attended the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1957, but decided to join the Air Force because of its superior educational opportunities. Parkinson then attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his M.S. in Aeronautics, graduating in 1961.

After several years in the Air Force, he entered a Ph. D. program at Stanford University, graduating in 1966. In 1973 he became manager of the NAVSTAR GPS development program, where he remained until 1978 when he retired from the Air Force. In 1984, Parkinson became a professor at Stanford University, where today he is a professor emeritus.

In 2003 he shared the Draper Prize with Ivan A. Getting for his contributions to the invention of the Global Positioning System. In 2004 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Today Parkinson lives in San Luis Obispo, California near his six children and five grandchildren.


Parkinson, U.S. Patent 5,726,659, “Multipath calibration in GPS pseudorange measurements” Parkinson, U.S. Patent 6,434,462, “GPS control of a tractor-towed implement" Parkinson, U.S. Patent 6,732,024, “Method and apparatus for vehicle control, navigation and positioning" Parkinson, U.S. Patent 6,052,647, “Method and system for automatic control of vehicles based on carrier phase differential GPS" Parkinson, U.S. Patent 6,373,432, "System using leo satellites for centimeter-level navigation" Parkinson, U.S. Patent 5,572,218, "System and method for generating precise position determinations" - for which Parkinson was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2004 Parkinson, U.S. Patent RE37,256, "System and method for generating precise position determinations"


Historical context

Beginning with the Sputnik launch in 1957, there was an awareness in the aeronautical and military communities that some type of satellite-based navigation system was technically feasible – and even likely, in some form. The United States Navy experimented with the technology early on, launching a network of navigational satellites named Transit in 1960. TRANSIT was mainly used for tracking ICBMs on submarines, and was limited to two dimensions. In addition, the accuracy was limited to two miles, which, at that time, was considered to be near the theoretical limit of the technology.

Throughout the 1960s work continued on navigational satellites. Several additional projects were launched at a variety of different organizations, including the Aerospace Corporation, a non-profit R&D laboratory in the United States, the Applied Physics Laboratory, and the Naval Surface Weapons Center. However, each organization operated independently, and, given the potential military significance of the technology, a certain amount of secrecy marked the projects. In addition, the early results of high-accuracy testing were not entirely encouraging. Indeed, the Pentagon was publicly skeptical of satellite-based navigation systems, as they believed the accuracy would always be too poor to be of substantial value.

Reception and impact

Though initially viewed with skepticism, GPS has become a ubiquitous and life-changing technology. It is critical to the military operations of both the United States and many foreign countries, providing navigational information to everything from ground infantry units to guided missiles. In addition, GPS has been incorporated into a broad range of civilian applications. Most current cell phones, for example, include receivers, enabling block-by-block directions for pedestrians and drivers alike. Civilian airplanes have also incorporated GPS receivers, providing another component in airplanes' sophisticated navigational systems. Indeed, with the help of GPS, airplanes are now capable of performing landings on autopilot, and doing so with better precision and safety than human pilots.

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