Do you remember Y2K, when January 1, 2000 was coming around the bend and everyone was worried that the world was going to end (well, figuratively, not necessarily literally) because the electronics of the world that used time/calendar as part of its interface couldn’t handle going to 01/01/00, 00:00?
Well, we have another “crisis” coming up, this time on April 6th, 2019. But this time it’s not because of clocks.
It’s because of GPS.
April 6, 2019 is the day that millions of GPS receivers will run out of time. Literally. Because of how GPS systems were made back in the day, lots of older GPS devices aren’t going to have anywhere to go, timewise, effective April 6th, so they’ll revert back to zero (that’s a simplified way to explain it but I think it’s good enough for most of us, LOLOL!). That, in turn, will mess up with their timing, which will cause all kinds of problems.
Over the years, GPS has been integrated via satellites into websites, public safety systems, electrical grids, traffic monitoring systems, financial markets, ports, data centers, computer networks, industrial control systems and lots and lots of everyday things. But most importantly in terms of travel, it plays a huge part in navigation, to the point where even a nanosecond change in GPS time can turn into 12 inches of positioning/ranging error. So GPS plays a huge role for pilots, ships, trains and, of course, cars and trucks, because even a small GPS error of just a few seconds could take those planes, trains, automobiles and boats miles off course.
This article from technology publication Tom’s Guide goes into the issue in a whole lot more detail, including what/why the problem is. They also reference the Homeland Security memorandum that was released in April 2018, which gave federal, state, local, and private sector organizations a full year to check with the manufacturers of their GPS devices and/or to update the firmware of their GPS devices (the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has released a similar memo).
Happily, newer GPS systems are produced differently and are generally immune to this GPS bug. However older management systems that use GPS, many of which are still in service in cargo ships, older planes, private planes, etc., could see problems.
This isn’t the first time there’s been a GPS issue – the last one happened on August 21, 1999 and fortunately, very little impact was felt. The issue is moreso that so many more entities use GPS in their day-to-day workload, and for more important aspects of that workload, than they did in 1999.
So yeah…4/6/19. Chances are that, just like 1/1/00 and 8/21/99. nothing earth shattering will happen. But if you want to play it safe, you may want to consider not flying on that day. Just sayin’.
*** Huge thanks to Michael G. for the heads up on this topic
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary