Todd Humphreys Honored for GPS Work with ION Kepler Award

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September 21, 2023

Todd Humphreys, a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at The University of Texas at Austin, is the recipient of the 2023 Johannes Kepler Award from the Institute of Navigation.

The award, considered to be the highest honor in the positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) community, is given annually to one individual “for sustained and significant contributions to the development of satellite navigation during their lifetime.” Humphreys was selected “for sustained contributions to the art and science of navigation signal processing; and for increasing the public awareness of the vulnerability of GNSS.”

Humphreys, who joined the Cockrell School of Engineering faculty in 2009, has made significant contributions to secure, precise and robust PNT as well as to GNSS (global navigation satellite system) software-defined receivers (SDRs).

He developed the first ever global navigation software-defined receiver on a small general-purpose processor that could track dozens of signals in real time. This led to a highly optimized science-grade multicore GNSS SDR, the first of its kind to use centimeter-accurate positioning utilizing a smartphone antenna. This was first demonstrated by Humphreys and his research team, proving that global positioning and orientation of cell phones could be made far more accurate than was previously known.  

Humphreys began his study of GNSS security with public demonstrations and publications on assessing the threat of civilian spoofing and jamming. He and his group have proven the vulnerability of navigation security with demonstrations that have included conducting the first live-signal spoofing attack of a civilian drone in 2012 at the UT Darrell K. Royal stadium. Shortly after, Humphreys was invited to conduct the same demonstration for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in White Sands, NM, where he once again successfully demonstrated that GPS signals of a UAV can be commandeered by an outside source. In June 2013, his group targeted the navigation system of an $80 million superyacht and successfully gained control of the ship’s navigation system, coercing it off its original course.

Over the years since he has been conducting research at UT Austin, Humphreys has made the risks of GNSS jamming and spoofing known to a wider audience, and increased public awareness of such vulnerabilities with live demonstrations, publications and public addresses, including participating in international advisory boards and testifying before U.S. Congress.

Humphreys has been recognized as an outstanding educator and academic leader. His students have received multiple academic achievement awards, high-ranking industry positions and professorial appointments at other universities. Humphreys has won several awards including the Presidential Early Career award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the UT Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award, the NSF CAREER Award and the Institute of Navigation Thurlow Award. He is a recognized technical expert who has addressed numerous academic and international policy and regulatory bodies and participated in the governance and leadership of many PNT organizations.

Humphreys holds the Ashley H. Priddy Centennial Professorship in Engineering in Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at UT Austin, where he directs the Radionavigation Laboratory and the Wireless Networking and Communications Group.

The Kepler award was presented to Humphreys by ION’s Satellite Division on Sep. 15, 2023 at the ION GNSS+ 2023 Conference held in Denver, CO. Humphreys noted that the award was presented exactly 50 years after GPS was "born" in a long series of meetings over Labor Day weekend in 1973.

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