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Professor Emeritus Bradford Parkinson awarded 2018 IEEE Medal of Honor

Each year, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) awards a Medal of Honor for exceptional contribution or an extraordinary career in IEEE fields of interest, s
Brad Parkinson photo
IEEE Medal of Honor photo

 Each year, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) awards a Medal of Honor for exceptional contribution or an extraordinary career in IEEE fields of interest, sponsored by the IEEE Foundation.

At the IEEE honors ceremony in San Francisco on May 11, 2018 Stanford Aeronautics and Astronautics Professor Emeritus, Bradford Parkinson, received the 2018 IEEE Medal of Honor for his “fundamental contributions to and leadership in developing the design and driving the early applications of the Global Positioning System (GPS).”

Text accompanying Professor Parkinson’s 2018 award on the IEEE Medal of Honor Recipients page of the IEEE website.

A visionary leader in academia, industry, and the U.S. military, Bradford W. Parkinson’s role in developing and advancing the Global Positioning System (GPS) has provided the world with technology we now take for granted and that impacts virtually all aspects of modern living. GPS has become an engine of economic development and the basis for countless applications that rely on accurate positioning and timing information. Parkinson was the chief architect of this satellite-based navigation system that works in any weather condition, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, to let us know precisely where we are—whether on land, at sea, or in the air. As a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force in 1973, Parkinson led the efforts to gain government approval of GPS and served as the first director of the GPS Joint Program Office. While GPS was originally funded solely by the military, Parkinson insured that certain GPS signals would be freely available for civil applications.  Under his leadership, the GPS satellites were produced and launched in 44 months. Simultaneously, a ground control system was developed and deployed to upload the satellites. Also developed were eight different kinds of user equipment to demonstrate the capabilities of the new system, and Parkinson led extensive tests to confirm that GPS could meet its goals.

As a professor at Stanford University, Parkinson participated in the development of many innovative applications for GPS while leading a research group within the Center for Positioning, Navigation, and Time. His group successfully modified a commercial Boeing 737 for robotic aircraft landings. In 1992, this plane made 110 fully “blind” landings using GPS alone. They also developed the first precision robotic farm tractor controlled to an accuracy of approximately 2 inches on a rough field. This initiated the era of “autofarming” that is now a US$900 million-a-year worldwide market. The group also created the Wide Area Augmentation System (WASS) intended to enable aircraft to rely on GPS for all phases of flight, including precision approaches to any airport within its coverage area. WAAS can also improve accuracy of personal GPS devices.  Parkinson also served as coprincipal investigator and program manager of the NASA/Stanford Relativity Gyroscope Experiment, which validated Einstein’s general theory of relativity using orbiting gyroscopes. With GPS providing precision orbit control and measurement, the experiment verified two effects of general relativity never before tested with a mechanical apparatus.

Parkinson's technical, program management, and political expertise made the initial configuration of GPS a reality. He then worked tirelessly to ensure that GPS remains an effective and reliable military capability as well as a precise and reliable international utility supporting an ever-increasing array of civil applications. Today’s mobile Long-Term Evolution (LTE) communications technology is essentially dependent on high-precision GPS timing for its operation. GPS is also integral to providing emergency services; marine, air, and automotive navigation; weather forecasting and tracking; and surveying and mapping applications.

An IEEE Life Fellow and corecipient of the 2003 Charles Stark Draper Prize, Parkinson is the Edward C. Wells Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Emeritus at Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA.

IEEE Medal of Honor Recipients Web Page>>