Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has forever changed the way people work, live and get around. What started as a radio-navigation tool developed by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1973, GPS is now a standard feature in smartphones, vehicles and various other mobile products. People today freely use GPS for everything from keeping track of pets, finding restaurants, and hiking backcountry trails. Companies use it for fleet tracking, map-making, and communicating with customers who’ve wandered near the place of business. The technology is available to anyone with a GPS receiver.
None of these savvy applications would be possible if it weren’t for Navstar, the original GPS system that built on traditional radio-based navigation systems that emerged in the 1940 and were used in World War II. These early location-detection and navigation systems along with the Soviet Union’s release of Sputnik, led to the development of the first operational satellite navigation system, known as Transit, which was developed by the U.S. Navy. Navstar’s GPS function superseded Transit in the early 1990s and quickly became an official U.S. national asset; it continues to evolve to improve in terms of application and accuracy.
When people talk about GPS technology, they’re referring to a set of 24 solar-powered satellites that each circle the globe twice a day. Using triangulation, a popular pen-and-paper land-surveying and nautical navigation technique that uses two known variables to solve for a third, a GPS receiver can locate itself and just about anything on Earth with remarkable accuracy. Basically, a GPS receiver uses satellite data to measure the distance of radio signals over set periods of time. In some cases, GPS satellites can locate a position within centimeters.
Companies have now come to rely on GPS technology to manage resources and comply with various industry regulations. Consider commercial truckers, for example, who must avoid small roads and bridges due to weight limits. GPS allows drivers to route their trips efficiently by minimizing risks of getting stuck or needing to backtrack. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation is working on new guidelines that will require GPS companies to list bridge heights and other valuable information so truckers throughout the country can reach their destinations without unexpected delays.
Asset tracking is another popular business use of GPS systems, especially among companies that ship goods over long distances. The right GPS system allows shipping companies — and their customers — to find out where a truck with their goods is at any given moment. Similarly, smartphones and tablets often include native apps that allow owners to find them if they’re lost or stolen.
GPS satellites can pinpoint other assets as well, including government officials and high-level employees, down to a few inches. Even entire residences can benefit from GPS technology, which can help determine property lines so no Hatfield-McCoy feuds break out between neighbors.
Many car manufacturers now include GPS functions in their new vehicles, and many now have voice controls or touch screens. This makes it easier than ever for drivers to find the nearest restaurant or gas station. The same technology allows city transit systems to track the location of their vehicles and provide real time arrival information to passengers.
As people and businesses find even more ways to utilize GPS, the perks of this technology will only become further engrained in how people live, work and get around. There’s no going back now — even if GPS can show the way!