Elizabeth Cannon

Pure and Applied Mathematics

Geomatics Engineer and world expert in the research and development of satellite navigation tools using GPS

"Whenever you are working in a fast-growing and technologically challenging area, there is a lot of room for discovery and innovation. This is what pioneering is all about!"

Twenty years ago, the Global Positioning System (GPS), a means of tracking position on earth using signals received by satellite, was in its infancy and consisted of six satellites built and owned by the US military. Its use was limited to only that period of time when four satellites were within view of any particular location. Today there is a network of 27 satellites which ensure that any location on earth can be pinpointed by GPS, and weekend hikers and sailors can buy off-the-shelf hand-held models for a few hundred dollars. Uses of GPS now include everything from wildlife tracking collars to a replacement for gyroscopes to measure pitch on board ships, to guidance systems for the family car.

In 1982, with a fresh BSc in Geomatics Engineering, Cannon came to work for Nortech Surveys, a seismic surveying and geomatics company in Calgary which was developing new GPS methodology and software. Intrigued, she returned to the U of Calgary to study Geomatics, the science of the production and management of spatial information. Winner of the 1988 Institute of Navigation (ION) student paper competition, Cannon researched techniques of precise positioning in airplanes using semi-kinematic differential GPS. She soon became a recognized leader in the area. After her PhD, she joined U of Calgary as an assistant professor, quickly gaining full professor status.

Cannon's current research activities include:

  • Aircraft positioning and attitude, where scientists use GPS antennae mounted on the aircraft to attain position accuracies at the centimeter level and attitude accuracies at the few arc-minute level.
  • Precision farming, where scientists attach a GPS system and yield monitor to a combine. The resulting data are used to create a prescription showing where fertilizer can best be applied
  • Improvements in precise positioning where scientists are aiming at accuracies of 10 sq. centimeters within 300 sq. kilometers, by developing algorithms which take into account errors created by ionospheric and tropospheric interference as well as satellite orbits and signal multipath.




    As well as conducting research and publishing her findings, Dr. Cannon has served on many professional boards and has made over 200 presentations on GPS to school, community, professional and government groups. As NSERC/Petro-Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the Prairie Region, she actively mentors girls and women, promoting science and engineering as potential careers. Her many awards include the NSERC Steacie Award, one of Canada's premier science and engineering prizes. In 2001, she received the Johannes Kepler Award for sustained and significant contributions to satellite-based navigation from the U.S. Institute of Navigation, of which Dr Cannon is past president.

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