Primitive Navigation - Baseline Navigation

John Huth developed this activity for his SPU 26: Primitive Navigation class. The purpose of this assignment is to establish a baseline for their navigational skills. Students navigate Harvard campus to hold a course and estimate a traveled distance to see how successful they will be without any special training.

Students start at the John Harvard Statue, take a bearing west by looking at the northwest corner of Massachusetts Hall. They record the time on their watch or timekeeping device and then put it away.

They are to walk due west as best they can for what they perceive as 20 minutes. This involves detouring around buildings and other obstacles, but then try to regain due west. After what they perceive as 20 minutes, they stop, record the time interval. They then estimate how far west they think they've traveled (straight line). Then, they look around for street signs, land marks etc. and record this to later ascertain their position. They then return to their dorm room/library - anyplace where they can get to a computer with google earth. They then look at how far off of due west they ended up by locating their final position. They also compare their estimate of how far due west they walked to how far they really walked.

They discuss their results among the class and find whether the class systematically over or underestimated the time interval, the distance covered, and whether there was a systematic skew toward north or south. This activity ultimately helped establish a baseline for later navigational work and to see how their estimates or distance and position improve with skills taught later in the course. It also teaches concepts important to the class like means, standard deviations, uncertainties, and systematics. 

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