BusinessWeek Online published on June 18 a special report about five emerging technologies. I chose one of these five technologies called synthetic vision.
This is a technology that matches satellite data and 3-D maps can provide a clear view of the terrain regardless of weather conditions.
For airlines, synthetic vision might be the best thing since packaged meals. And avionics is only one of the many possible applications for the technology. With some modifications, it could be used to help submarines navigate, to help telecoms dig more precise cable trenches, to fight fire and crime, and to clear minefields. It's a major breakthrough in navigation tools and mapping -- and for the technology called geographic information systems (GIS), a $1.5 billion market.
The technique, which overlays maps with a variety of data, is in concept at least 35,000 years old. Early hunters living in what is now Lascaux, France, depicted the animals they stalked and their migration routes on their cave walls, effectively combining data with a map. Later, explorers overlaid their terrain maps with the data on -- or rumors of -- gold mines. More recently, biologists have used satellite receivers to track the migration routes of polar bears. And farmers have used the technology to estimate the fertilizer needs of their fields. The new generation of GIS devices should further widen the possibilities.
While Boeing is still evaluating synthetic vision and, experts say, might not start using it until 2006, the simplest such systems could make their debut in 2003. Avionics-electronics maker Chelton Flight Systems, a subsidiary of Britain's Cobham, plans to install its Electronic Flight Information System in up to 200 planes in the mountainous Juneau region of Alaska. And rival Goodrich hopes to come out with its SmartDeck synthetic vision for small planes next year, says Ray Wabler, industry liaison for the company.
The potential market is large: About 2,000 new planes are sold in the U.S. each year, and about 200,000 are already in use, says Wabler. Add to that military aircraft, and the future looks bright for the new technology. Of course, cost is always a consideration, and the new systems don't come cheap -- around $25,000 to outfit small planes and $100,000 for commercial aircraft.
Source: Olga Kharif, BusinessWeek Online, June 18, 2002
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