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GPS: Birth, Adoption, Evolution!

  • By Ryan Skidmore

The basics of GPS are fairly simple. GPS uses 3 or more satellites that send signals about their current location and time at regular intervals. (1.) A GPS receiver, be it a tracker or a mobile phone, calculates how far away each satellite is and how long the message took to come. (1.) As a satellite moves toward and away from a receiver, the frequency of its signal goes up and then down the same way a train horn changes pitch as it approaches and goes by. (2.) Using its calculations from at least three satellites, the receiver is able to determine its own location and tell you where you are. Because GPS satellites have a fixed flight path, they will be in the same places at the same times over and over.

A Star is Born. In 1957, Sputnik flew overhead, reminding the US one tiny beep at a time that they were not in space. (1.) However, MIT scientists noticed that the frequency of the radio signals went up as Sputnik approach and down as it left. (1.) They could measure the distance to the satellite by the frequency. (1.) With a few more tools and innovations, they had concocted the basics of GPS. One of the basic challenges of life on earth, navigation, was about to be conquered.

Please Sir, May I Have Some More. Innovations were quick to follow every few years, making way for the modern GPS system, but in 1983 a Korean Air flight strayed into Soviet air space and was shot down. (1.) In the wake of the tragedy, president Ronald Regan offer the use of the GPS system, which had only been available to the US military up to that point, to commercial aircraft so they could more accurately see where they were. (1.) The stage was set for civilian use of the GPS system instead of solely military, government, and scientific uses. Then in 1989, the Magellan Corporation started marketing the first hand-held GPS device. (1.) By mid-2008, Apple had released the iPhone 3G with GPS and cellular data to fetch information about locations. (4.) With the success of the iPhone, being able to get directions to a friend’s house or look up good restaurants nearby made the idea of GPS mainstream. Such accessibility and popularity of the concept meant the cost of using it for purposes other than finding one’s way would come down quickly and that innovations would be rapid, varied, and highly creative.

What’s next? GPS III is next. Here’s what that means. GPS III will be 250 times more detectable meaning indoor positioning will finally be possible. (3.) Another big advance is M-Code which, amongst other things, can generate a “directional cone” making the signal 100 times stronger than normal. (3.) Meaning that stronger GPS can be delivered when it is seriously needed.

GPS is an incredible technology with as many possibilities as people can dream up. No matter what they dream up next, let Carmine help you stay on the cutting edge.


1. How does GPS work?

2. A brief history of GPS

3. GPS III: Where Are We? And Where Are We Going?

4. iPhone 3G announced

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