Eye In the Sky: GPS

by Fabian Toulouse

Originally, the Global Positioning System (GPS) was designed totally for military use. To date, it is the only fully functional satellite system that uses a series of medium-range earth orbit satellites to determine a wide spectrum of information, including location, time, speed, as well as the direction of any particular marked objects.

In 1983, President Regan made the system available to “serve the good of the people.” The GPS system is now widely used across the continents. Some people use it to navigate, find directions, even to enhance maps, surveying areas that could not be done without the aid of a satellite. Various companies have made the technology available by means of our automobiles, cell phones, even our watches. Additionally, meteorologists use the GPS system to hone in on, and make it possible to alert people to evacuate certain areas well in advance of approaching storm systems.

The Global Positioning System is not a novel concept at all; before 1939, a viable navigation system was already in existence – in theory. In 1943, a German scientist, Karl Hans Janke, patented the idea of using two satellites positioned at certain points could send electromagnetic signals, using screen vectors, and determine the direction of an object. Each satellite was proposed to send messages at the speed of light to receivers, which would then convert the messages into latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates.

There are a handful of occurrences that can interfere with the performance of a GPS system. Natural phenomenon, like sun spots, meteor showers, and earth-based storms can adversely affect reception. Often, the interference has a more unremarkable culprit. Car defrosters can interrupt the GPS signaling as well as the grade of tint on some windows. Of course, the industry is always troubleshooting and perfecting their signaling systems to circumvent these problems.

Verizon, Nextel, and Sprint were among the first mobile providers to fashion GPS systems into their cell phones. Soon, services like OnStar and TomTom were folded into the automobile market. The speed with which these GPS advances are developed, and the speed with which companies are incorporating these advances into everyday life, paints a very bright picture for GPS.

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