An Overview of GPS Technology and Global Positioning Systems

It’s hard to remember what we did before Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and how we got from A to B! Many no longer consider how incredible it is that we can know our exact location, time and even what the weather is like anywhere on earth through the use of a GPS! The hard work and skill that went into meticulous journey planning or navigation around the world is unthinkable today.

Millions of GPS Applications Used Everyday

GPS’s are used by millions of people worldwide on a daily basis. It is fundamental to the military, civil society and modern air traffic systems. Originally, they were used for ocean navigation of ships and submarines. The advances that GPS has made are colossal; from boats and planes to sophisticated tracking vehicle devices and systems used by transportation companies. Recent advances have seen the introduction of GPS onto laptops and mobile phones. GPS knows no limits!

The Original Design of GPS Navigation

So how did the GPS tracking come about and what does it mean for us today? Designs were initially based on radio-navigation used in WWII but have been being seriously developed since the 1960s with different ideas being created on how to improve navigation. It wasn’t until 1973 that the GPS project was born. The GPS came about thanks to the U.S Department of Defence, DoD and was originally run using 24 Satellites. It was not until 1994 that it revolutionized the world and came into full operation.

Now, GPS is made up of 31 satellites 20,200 km (12,500 miles or 10,900 nautical miles) surrounding the earth which are spaced in orbit meaning that at any given moment, a minimum of six satellites can be used at any location worldwide. They never stop working, transmitting signals to the ground to be received by GPS’s. Each satellite is powered by the sun and rotates completing a distance of 19,300 kilometres.

The GPS Global Positioning Network of Satellites

What does the GPS mean for the ancient skill of traditional map reading? Is there no longer need for a map and compass, is GPS more precise? Maps are still used by people orienteering, mountain bikers and climbers as well as numerous orienteers. What does an increasing use of the GPS mean for society? People can now get from A to B without even thinking or taking anything in with no idea of what they are passing or how they arrived. What if their GPS failed, would they be able to find their way back?  A bleak place like Dartmoor with few landmarks on its beautifully rugged moors wouldn’t be a nice place for your GPS to fail! Having a backup map with you when in uncertain terrain is probably advisable at all times!

GPS Can Save People Time and Money

What is true is that GPS saves people lots of time and stress when travelling to a new place. Gone are the days seeing people struggling with huge maps, winding down the window to ask in broken French (or whatever the language where they may be is) how to get to destination X. Nowadays, people make it to their destination usually via the most cost effective route which has the double advantage of saving money and the environment!

GPS serve many purposes in addition to their tracking function. They act as a deterrent for car thieves and are even used by private investigators to monitor cheating spouses! On a more serious note they can be used by the military for tracking lost soldiers or missiles and, most importantly for ensuring the welfare of their men.

They have become an indispensable gadget in modern society but the traditional option of a compass and a map is still perfectly viable and let’s hope it remains that way!

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