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Sunday, August 22, 1999 Published at 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK


Navigation bug fails to bite

GPS receivers like this watch can give positions to within a few metres

Navigation systems seem to have survived the threat of a time bug.

It had been feared a problem similar to the millennium computer bug would cause the Global Positioning System (GPS) to reset its timing devices, widely used by aircraft, amateur yachtsmen and mountaineers.

Coastguards and emergency services worldwide remain on alert but by Sunday morning few problems had been reported.

"Just a regular weekend. It's actually been a very slow day," said coastguard Danny Phee in Long Beach, California.

[ image: GPS satellites have passed through their first rollover]
GPS satellites have passed through their first rollover
The US Air Force said it was satisfied that the system was still operating properly.

But problems were reported in Japan where a car navigator manufacturer received about 600 complaints.

The electronic screens that help drivers find their route went blank or flashed up strange symbols.

Pioneer Corp received about 600 calls on a special hotline, said spokesman Hidehiko Shimizu.

Drivers were directed to the nearest repair shop, where their systems were fixed for free.

The GPS network relies on more than 20 satellites to pinpoint the user's whereabouts to within a few metres.

But in a millennium-style glitch the early satellites had a limited timing device which ran out at midnight GMT on Saturday night and reset to zero.

Air Force Space Command said the so-called "end of week rollover" has passed off successfully and the satellites orbiting 11,000 miles (17,700km) above earth were continuing to function normally.

"Military and civilian GPS users worldwide can continue to depend on accurate information from the GPS satellites," it said.

In a foretaste of the millennium bug that could hit thousands of computers around the world at the end of the year, scientists did not know quite what would happen when the satellites went back to zero.

(Click here to see how GPS works)

It was feared old equipment might stop working or give wildly inaccurate readings.

[ image: Amateur pilots have been warned to check their equipment before flying]
Amateur pilots have been warned to check their equipment before flying
Sailors, pilots and outdoor sports enthusiasts across the world were urged to check their GPS receivers before setting out on their journeys.

Many amateur outdoor sports enthusiasts, for example, have come to rely almost entirely on the system originally developed by the US military for targeting its missiles.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said it had also not received any reports of pilots experiencing difficulty with their navigation equipment.

A US recreational boating organisation, Boat US, says anyone who is unsure whether their receiver is rollover-compliant can check with the manufacturer's specifications listed on their Website at

The US Coast Guard has also set up a Website at

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Internet Links

Navstar GPS Homepage

Federation of American Scientists: Navstar GPS


GPS Links


UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency

UK Royal Yachting Association

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