How do you describe a location on the Earth’s surface? For centuries people have done that using the Earth coordinate system of latitude and longitude. Centuries of explorers and seafarers from Columbus to Cook to Peary have used the system. But now a former Honeywell real time statistical quality control expert named Leonard Fulcher (some of his work at Honeywell is patented and his new system is patent pending) has devised a new coordinate system that improves on lat/long. Fulcher’s system produces what he calls a Global Location Address (GLA) for every location on Earth and it just might change the way we navigate. Perhaps not so much when we are at sea, but when we arrive at our voyaging destination and we need to find places of interest, gather supplies and repair.
There are coordinate systems other than lat/long, of course. The Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) system has been used for decades while the U.S. military uses an extension of UTM that is called the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS).
But those systems are specialized approaches rarely used by the average person. The GLA system devised by Fulcher via his Arizona-based company, Globally Linked Earth and Web (GLEAW) Technology LLC, was developed for everyone to use. “The intent is to make it the people’s latitude and longitude,” Fulcher said. According to Fulcher, he got the idea for a system that could calculate GLAs when he and his wife were volunteering in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “Our vehicle broke down and we knew where we were, but nobody knew how to find us.”
Fulcher likens a GLA to a bar code; he thinks of both as “infrastructure technologies.” A GLA is a way of defining a location for use as information. His GLA system breaks the world down into 840 billion uniquely-named squares. “The GLA algorithms manipulate latitude and longitude information using data compression and encoding techniques to create the GLA code,” Fulcher explains. “A GLA code equally describes a corner location on Wall Street, a village tribal elders hut in Uganda, or the location of an archeological object in the Gobi Desert.”
If you want to calculate your GLA, Fulcher provides an MS Excel spreadsheet free to anyone who wants one. Enter your latitude and longitude and the spreadsheet calculates two different eight-digit GLAs. (Why two GLAs? In case you don’t like the look of one, you can use the other. They both describe the same lat/long position.)
For example, the latitude and longitude for Portland, Maine, is 43° 39’ N, 70° 19’ W. When these numbers are run through Fulcher’s GLA spreadsheet, we get AHZ73FOV and 1KACT3LD. Neither GLA means anything to a user, it is just a number string or as Fulcher calls it, “a license plate.”
“There was an intent to not make the eight characters something you could understand,” Fulcher said. “You just read it out and accept it as it is.” In addition, the GLA system is alphabet independent, meaning it will work in a variety of languages, not just English. And Fulcher designed the system so that it produces GLAs without any offensive words in the character strings.
At the eight-character level, a GLA address provides 100-foot accuracy. At 10 characters a GLA gives you a square yard on the surface of Earth. Increase the characters to 12 and a GLA drills down to the one-inch level. Take it four characters further, up to 16 characters, and the accuracy is astounding. “At sixteen characters it is one-millionth of a square inch with zero resolution error,” Fulcher said. Such precision is not really needed for navigation. But for such applications as tagging the location of elements at a crime scene or laying down an ultraprecise grid for an archaeological expedition, a millionth of a square inch makes sense.
Another intriguing element of this improved lat/long is that, unlike other coordinate systems, GLAs aren’t restricted for use only on the surface of the globe. If you want to give someone directions to your fourth floor office, you could provide them with a lat/long and a floor number, but since Fulcher’s GLA system is a three dimensional system at the 10-character level. It describes every cubic yard going out to 20,000 miles. So, a GLA address can easily direct you to a fourth floor office using only the 10 character GLA without any need for a floor number.
Let’s say you are in a new port, perhaps in a foreign country, and you need to know the way to a chandlery. You can get the GLA of the chandlery from its Web site, enter that GLA into a GLEAW-equipped phone and the phone will give you an arrow indicating the direction to the chandlery and an alphanumeric readout showing the distance.
Given that some of Fulcher’s career involved data compression for bar code systems, naturally, GLAs can also be converted to bar-code format.
What about marine uses? Fulcher even has a separate page on his Web site (www.gleawtech.com) devoted to sailors. One benefit to the GLA system is that it allows you to communicate with a group of boats without revealing your position. Something called a privacy offset is built into the GLA interface. You can enter a number into the privacy offset. When you do that, your GLA changes into a different string of characters. Provide that privacy offset number to others in your group and they will be able to decipher your GLA so it shows your true location.
Fulcher has also included a page in his MS Excel spreadsheet that automatically pulls in lat/long information from your vessel’s GPS unit. Another feature is something called “type ahead.” Since we write from left to right (in English, anyway), Fulcher designed GLAs to have the characters farthest to the right convey the largest area. Thus, if I am in California and going from a GLA in San Diego to a GLA in La Jolla, the rightmost four characters in the GLA would not change, I would only have to retype the leftmost characters.
Fulcher’s marketing strategy for his new and improved lat/long is to give away for free the MS Excel spreadsheet that calaculates GLAs. He plans to sell the software for GLA processing to GPS manufacturers and cell phone companies.