At the Edge of Midnight, the End of an Epoch

As midnight steals over the Prime Meridian and the sleepy emerald lawns of Greenwich, England wave in the opening seconds of April 6th, 2019, an invisible calamity will begin to unfurl across the globe. Slithering into the world’s banks, its tapestry of cellular towers stretching endlessly across spherical distances, its atmosphere of airplanes and drones, its oceans traversed by shipping vessels carrying planetary commerce, plunging into our cars, our Google maps, our precious cell phones, worming even into the modern human concept of timing, is the epochal death of our Global Positioning System. We have long forgotten how to heed the directional offerings of the sun upon stones, and an entire generation has risen on this earth without the ability to read a paper map. In short, the invisible hand guiding the rhythm of our existence is about to going sputtering by degrees.

Referred to as the GPS Epoch Failure or GPS Rollover, the eerily similar to Y2K event will occur when the Coordinated Universal Time Cock (UTC) reaches the maximum allowance for its calculation algorithm, its 10-bit “week number counter” or WN. At this moment, when midnight falls over the Prime Meridian’s shoulders, the satellite navigation system will revert back to the counted measure of its original existence—August 21st, 1999, the 0000000000 hour. That’s when this current iteration of the GPS epoch began—a cycle of roughly 20 years dating back to the system’s inception at the hands of Mr. Reagan in January of 1980. Due to the present 10 digit limit of the 31 satellite system that was created and still maintained by the United States Air Force, every 1,024 weeks the atomic clocks inside each satellite will run out of computation space and reset back to base zero. This happens because of the intricate processes which keep GPS humming through humanity’s galaxy of needs and demands: the system works by transmitting a time signature to the network of satellites orbiting earth where the unique code contained within the signature is unpacked, this code is compiled by the week and seconds within the initial week when GPS Time was birthed—January 6th, 1980. Once the internal limit is reached, the whole system leaps back to 0000000000—a dubious parallel to the “Beyond the Zero” narrative of Thomas Pynchon’s 1979 novel Gravity’s Rainbow.

  So are we facing the global annihilation of technology? Will mankind be flung back into its darkened past of sundials and carrier pigeons? Not quite—most of the technological devices created in the last five years or less have firmware that’s already been programmed to handle the roll back, or is capable of receiving the necessary preventable updates. The danger lies in the distance beyond those years—think of trains, airplanes, banks, institutions that are traditionally slow to change their technology suddenly being thrown out of orbit. Think of driving down interstate 5 toward Santa Clarita and hearing directions for an avenue along the southern ridge of Easter Island, think of Google Earth detailing your route to a shopping mall that existed in 2001 and is a parking lot now—think September 1st, 1983 and 269 souls aboard Korean Airlines Flight 007 plummeting to their death after being blasted out of the sky by Soviet missiles as a result of faulty GPS coordinates deceiving the plane into unknowingly flying over Russian airspace. Doom by miscalculation.

While the worldwide impact will more than likely be negligible, this does offer an interesting moment for humanity to consider how reliant it is on technology. We’ve created gods out of electricity and the confluence of information, we’ve reduced the planet to a handheld device, and we’ve surrendered our ancient knowledge to digital arbitration. Yet the sun is still out there and its shadows still crawl across the stone dial—we have only to forget, and remember again.

As an industry leader in process measurement and control, as a well as an ardent supporter of technological progress, Otek prides itself on balancing the digital future with the past’s wisdom. That’s how we created our latest addition to our New Technology Fleet, the Solid State Analog Meter or SSAM, which was built with the analog past in mind so that the meter functions without critical digital assets and in harmony with our cutting-edge patented 2019 technology. We brought the past and the future, the ammeter and the DPM, together to give the nuclear industry its first cyber security exempt digital panel meter.

So tonight, as the clock folds over midnight and an epoch ends, we pause to remember the past as we consider the future. A future Otek will continue to push beyond the limits of panel meter technology.

For more information on Otek's fleet of tecnologically advanced instrumentation, please call our office at (520)-748-7900 or email our sales office at sales@otekcorp.com