GPS – We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

Remember the bygone days of planning trips using paper maps? Or the agony of trying to find an obscure address in a large city? Or trying to remember as you drive which Interstate exit to take?

Over the past decade, the growth and usability of Global Positioning System technologies has dramatically changed the way we live and travel. Although it seems to have merged into everyday life within just the past few years, the concept is not a new one. It dates back nearly five decades.

The U.S. Department of Defense formally initiated what would become commercial GPS industry in 1973, using military studies from the 1960s. From that point until 1989, when the first of today’s 24 GPS satellites was launched into orbit, teams of military technicians and researchers worked on the project, known initially as Navstar.

One of the pivotal events that led to what we know today as universal GPS was the 1983 tragedy of the Korean Air Lines flight 007, shot down after straying into prohibited airspace. In reaction to this disaster, President Reagan directed that steps be taken “guaranteeing that GPS signals would be available at no charge to the world when the system became operational.”[1]

When the final satellite in the 24-satellite network was placed into orbit in 1994, the concept was considered “ready for prime time,” and the commercial explosion began. Despite its intricate technological design, GPS is fairly straightforward in the way it works. The 24 satellites circle the earth twice a day in fixed orbit and send signals to the earth. GPS receivers take these readings from three or more satellites and, through triangulation, determine an exact physical location on earth.

Once into full commercial development, the GPS market became a staple of modern life. In fact, Market, in its report “World GPS Market Forecast to 2013” projects that the shipment of GPS devices worldwide will reach 900 million units by the end of 2013[2]. Marrying GPS technology with smartphones, for example, has opened up avenues of application that at times seems limitless.

While GPS has evolved to become a cornerstone of automobile, marine, and aviation travel, it’s also penetrated the worlds of outdoor recreation and sports. Such applications as “geocaching,” where GPS units are used to conduct a form of “hide-and-seek” in a variety of settings, are becoming commonplace. In the world of golf, devices are now available to help with your golf game by calculating distances to the hole, hazard location, and so on.

And the future holds even more promise for wider use of GPS. For example, GPS-enabled cameras are now available that let you geotag your photographs so you can pinpoint exactly where a particular shot took place. Another quickly-evolving GPS application is the concept of location-based advertising, which allows retailers to hit you with an ad based on where you are standing (assuming your SmartPhone is turned on in the store!)

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8 years ago

Don’t be so sure ! While there has been so many remarkable advances In many fields, like GPS’s, Lazers, Drones, Planes, Ships, Medical equiptment that can perform percise surgery, All kinds of weapontry, Satelites, etc and etc. It now put the responsibility in the hands of the person who operates it as we already know. Today is not like yesterday and yes we did come a long way Baby,! but beside these great achievements made by the capable men or women that have contributed to the Health, Welfare, Defense and Safety of our country, there is one very important step that is crucial to this whole system! Lest we forget the past screwups that in spite of our superior systems, we chose the wrong personel to operate and be incharge of these systems. We have had Top Secrets Stolen, We have had American Servicemen Shot. and the Major who did it, I assume is a free man. WW II is a great example of the biggest lack of responsibility and alertness along with Stupidity. I SOLEMNLY BELIEVE THAT THE PERSONNEL CHOSEN TO OPERATE THE SECURITY, DEFENSE, STRATEGY AND COMMAND OF THIS RESPONSIBILITY TO DEFEND AMERICA AND ITS CITIZENS BE TOTALLY AWARE OF EACH AND EVERY MAN OR WOMAN INVOLVED. TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION OF THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND MADE AWARE OF THE PENALTY FOR ANY MISTAKES ! THIS IS FOR EACH AND EVERY ONE. MOST OF ALL I WOULD NOT, I REPEAT, I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND THE PRESIDENT BE IN CHARGE OF THIS OPERATION ! THE BEST STRATEGIST AND FULLY QUALIFIED AMERICAN FROM ANY BRANCH OF THE ARMED SERVICES SHOULD BE COMMANDER IN CHIEF OF ALL THE ARMED FORCES INVOLVED. DUE TO THE SOCIALIST POLICIES OF THIS CONGRESS AND THIS ADMINISTRATION, I FEEL THE NEED TO GO ABOVE AND BEYOND THE LINE OF DUTY TO ASSURE OUR DEFENSE AND SAFETY OF OUR COUNTRY.

8 years ago
Reply to  Felix

I don’t believe a person should be elected president that hasn’t served in the military, how can you be a commander in chief if you have never walked a few miles in those boots….

8 years ago

Right now the federal govt, thru the FAA, is warning every civilian aviator that GPS is not reliable for instrument approaches at their destination. So after eliminating all ground based naviation aids at airports, a pilot is now forced to depend on an undependable GPS approach. That is not legal according to the FAA, so don’t rely on GPS only, the FAA will take your license, even if your were able to recieve full-up GPS for your approach. It is crippling civil aviation, one of obama’s pet projects, and ground based shipping communications that rely on GPS.
Your federal govt working for you again.

Everybody's Shrink
8 years ago
Reply to  Lance

I can understand the concern about over-reliance on a technology that can be shut off, but my airplane pilot experience does not correlate with this post in any way. Most non-directional beacons in the continental US are already becoming extinct, and the omnidirectional VOR beacons are destined for about a 75% reduction. This leaves GPS as the technological navaid of choice for aviation. More and more instrument approach procedures are being created for GPS. There is a virtual war on between several companies marketing navigation software used on iPads and other tablets or dedicated aviation devices. Not to say it won’t all go south for some reason or another (basic dead reckoning or pilotage skills should always be maintained), but GPS sure looks like a boom in civil aviation to me.

8 years ago

As a “test dummy” for this system – back when they only had five satellites up, moving up and down the mountains of Germany in 1990 – I can say, “Baby we’ve come a long way.” Another technology brought to you by the military-industrial complex. SGM, US Army (Retired)

Joyce B.
8 years ago

Not only does the GPS give you directions on how to get wherever you’re getting, but, as far as I know, various organizations can also find out exactly where and when you go out anywhere. So if you like Big Brother sitting on your shoulder, be sure to use your GPS. (Btw, all of the new cars have that technology in them according to Ford Motor Company, so Big Brother probably already knows.) I don’t do anything illegal or go anyplace illegal, but I still don’t like the government and big corporations (actually anyone) knowing what I do at every moment that I’m in my car. IMO it’s no one’s business but mine.

8 years ago

I case of a national meltdown, a direction which obama is ruthlessly directing this great country in, there will be 3 technologies that will be imediately shut off to the American public; Cell phones, the internet, and GPS. That is a fact. Are we becoming so complacent and dependant on technology that we have placed ourselves inside the trap, just hoping the door doesn’t spring shut? We mature Americans should take on the challenge of teaching our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren the long-hand methods of learning to read a paper map, for example. Just in case.

As a former Scoutmaster, teaching my favorite Merit Badge – Wilderness Survival, I challenged my Scouts to take charge and show their families what it would be like if technology failed. After all, the same teachings for surviving in the wildernes hold true for natural disasters as well, such as hurricanes and floods. Pick a 24 hour period where everyone stays home, and turn off the main breaker. No TV, computers, air conditioning, or any other form of electrical service (except the refrigerator). See what it’s like to sit in a candle-lit living room together and talk. What would life be like without a cell phone or video game? To experience this in a fun way, gives each participant a sense of reality which technologies often mask.

8 years ago

Another gift to the world from the mean ol’ USA and elitist republican Ronald Reagan…

8 years ago

Good educational article explaining to the public how the GPS network came into existence. A nice read everyone should be comfortable with.

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