Since the beginning, humans have studied constellations in the night sky to know their location. Today, all we need to do is access the location app on our smartphones. When driving around in a new place, most of us rely on Google Maps’ instructions on our smartphones, right? We barely stop to consider how the robotic voice knows where we are heading to. 

The answer to that is GPS, a miracle of space technology. 

GPS in Everyday Life

It’s Saturday night, and you’re craving momos. But, it has to be picked up fast, which means you need to know how to get to the nearest restaurant. That’s not a problem today! Simply type ‘momos’ into your smartphone, and it will tell you how to get there.

But how does your phone figure that out? Well, the answer is GPS again. GPS computes your location and searches for the closest restaurant serving momos for you.

GPS is everywhere. You can find GPS systems in your car, your smartphone, and even your watch. Read ahead to learn more about how it works. 

GPS, or the Global Positioning System, is a global navigation satellite system that provides location, velocity, and time synchronization. This network of satellites and receivers indicates the location of everything on Earth. Some GPS receivers are so precise that they can pinpoint a location to the nearest centimeter. Latitude, longitude, altitude, and time are all relayed via GPS receivers. 

The GPS constellation consists of 32 satellites orbiting the Earth at a speed of 14000 km/hr. These satellites send out radio messages.

Satellites, ground stations, and receivers make up the GPS. The ground stations use radar, and you’ll find a receiver in your phone or car that is on the lookout for signals from these satellites. The receiver calculates the distance and identifies the location. Once the receiver calculates its distance, it knows exactly where you are. Presto! Your location can be determined with incredible precision! 

How is GPS Used?

Technology has found its way into many spheres of modern life. GPS technology has a wide range of uses, from mining to aviation, agriculture to marine, entertainment to the military. Doctors, scientists, farmers, soldiers, pilots, trekkers, delivery men, mariners, fishers, dispatchers, sports, and others from many walks of life use GPS devices to make their jobs more efficient, safer, and simpler these days.

 The three main industrial uses of GPS include agriculture, automobiles, and defense. 

GPS has five main uses:

  1. Determining a position –  LOCATION
  2. Moving from one place to another – NAVIGATION
  3. Monitoring the movement of an object or a person  – TRACKING
  4. Creating world maps – MAPPING
  5. Recording exact time measurements – TIMING

A very common use of GPS in our daily lives is using it for navigation while driving. The GPS receiver monitors the car’s continuously changing location on an electronic map and helps us get to our desired location. Satellite data is used to track both the position and speed of the vehicle. It even tells us our ETA (Expected Time of Arrival).

As animals migrate, GPS technology is used to follow them. Animals ranging from humpback whales to arctic seabirds to grizzly bears have GPS transmitters attached to them. These receivers transmit data about their travels, allowing biologists to track them when they migrate to new habitats, travel for food or shelter, or are forced out of their natural habitat due to human activities.

Some Specific Examples of GPS Use Cases Include:

  • First responders use GPS to map, monitor, and predict the weather and keep track of emergency workers during a crisis or catastrophic event.
  • Games and activities such as Pokémon Go and Geocaching use GPS for entertainment purposes.
  • Telematics systems used by logistics companies monitor driver productivity and safety by providing route optimization, fuel efficiency, etc.
  • GPS is also used in agriculture, vehicles, sales and services, the military, mobile communications, security, and fishing.

A Brief History of GPS

GPS was first developed solely as a military technology in 1978. At first, it wasn’t very precise and could only detect a GPS receiver within 300 meters (1,000 feet). Doppler effect was seen in a GPS receiver. Scientists were able to establish the orbit of Sputnik I by studying signals emitted by the satellite from a known location.

How Does GPS Technology Work?

Trilateration is a technology used by GPS to work. Trilateration receives signals from satellites and uses them to generate location information. Satellites circling the Earth provide signals that a GPS device on the Earth’s surface reads and interprets. Each satellite in the network orbits around the planet twice daily, sending signals, orbital characteristics, and time.

The Future of GPS

GPS’s capabilities are continually evolving. For both personal and business applications, the future of GPS tracking is likely to be even more precise and effective. In that way, it will not only help us navigate better but will also help us save more time, money, and fuel. Following the precise location given by the GPS, we can reach our desired location on time. Short distances will require less fuel usage, which, in turn, will require less expenditure. Therefore, it won’t be wrong if we say that GPS enhanced our navigation and the future looks only better with the advancing technology.

About the Author

More than just Coding and Math! Our proprietary, activity-based curriculum with live, real-time instruction facilitates: Problem Solving. Creative Thinking. Grit. Confidence. Communication