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Global Navigation System Open To All Commercial Pilots, Drivers, Even Hikers Will Have Access To Military Satellites

In a decade or so, pilots, motorists, even hikers lost in the woods, might be able to pinpoint where they are by consulting a military satellite.

The Clinton administration is opening the Pentagon’s sophisticated global navigation system to full commercial access, clearing the way for the development of small, portable receivers capable of picking up satellite signals anywhere and in any weather.

“Before long it’s going to be very difficult to get lost,” said Charles R. Trimble, president of Trimble Navigation Ltd. of Sunnyvale, Calif. - one of several high-tech firms in California that stand to benefit from the new policy.

In announcing the move Friday, Vice President Al Gore said opening the Pentagon’s Global Positioning System to commercial use could lead to 100,000 new jobs, most of them in California, because of the technology needed to protect the military security of GPS while making state-of-the art systems commercially available.

“This new approach to the Pentagon’s Global Positioning System will help the emerging GPS businesses literally burgeon with jobs and explode into an $8 billion industry by the end of this century,” Gore told reporters. That would represent an eightfold growth in what is now a $1 billion industry.

Under the newly approved White House policy, the Pentagon, in four to 10 years, will end its practice of degrading the quality of the Global Positioning System signal available for commercial use. That practice had been designed to ensure a technological edge for U.S. military forces but will no longer be needed once new military security technologies are in place.

As a result, a far more accurate GPS system will be available for cars, airplanes, trains, trucks, ambulances, oil tankers, even hikers.

With portable receivers about the size of a cellular phone, users will be able to pick up satellite signals to pinpoint their location anywhere in the world, even at sea, under any weather conditions to within about four feet.