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Global Positioning System (GPS) – From History to Modern Applications – All You Ever Wanted To Know

Global Positioning System (GPS) – From History to Modern Applications – All You Ever ...

Applications of GPS

There are dozens or even hundreds of different applications of GPS in various areas of science, technology, business and sociology. Some of the applications are listed as following:

  • Astronomy and celestial mechanics
  • Navigation in autonomous vehicles
  • Mobile telephony and cell phones
  • Disaster management and relief operations
  • Weather monitoring
  • Vehicle fleet management
  • Aviation and aeronautics
  • Geo-fencing, geo-caching and geo-tagging
  • Telematics in automotive navigation systems
  • Online navigation e.g Google Maps



Google Maps and GPS

One of the biggest applications of GPS is the mobile navigation. There are many big players in this market segment such as Apple Maps, Google Maps, Garmin etc. However, all these companies rely on GPS for providing navigation services to users. Google Maps relies on GPS to provide an accurate location to the user however it also requires an active internet connection for the user to avail Google’s service. There are many alternative apps that allow the user to download maps and only rely on GPS for offline navigation.


Figure 4: Example of Navigation using Google Maps on a Smartphone


Figure 5: Google Street View Camera

GPS in mobile phones

In the past two decades, the advancements in the mobile phone technology have been phenomenal. The early smartphones were rudimentary devices whose sole purpose was cellular communication. These devices only featured necessary features like call, messaging, alarm, and data storage. However, these first-generation phones transitioned into sophisticated devices rather quickly. The smartphones of today include advanced sensors and devices such as GPS, gyroscopes, HD cameras, compasses, and accelerometers. The availability of these features has given a lot of room to the app developers and millions of different apps are available today for Android and iOS platforms.

In the navigation and maps niche, a lot of apps are available for smartphones that provide online and offline navigation services. These sophisticated apps not only calculate the optimal path for your journey but they also inform you about available modes of transportation, expected fares, transport schedules, nearby restaurants, restrooms, gas stations, traffic status and many other features. These mobile apps have made personal navigation very convenient for non-technical users and frequent travelers. The navigation apps commonly cater to the foot dwellers as well as vehicle drivers.



GPS in Autonomous Cars

Just like smartphones, the car industry is now going through a revolution that is unparalleled in car manufacturing history. Car manufacturing is perhaps one of the biggest sectors influenced by the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. The IoT paradigm involves the integration of sensors and smart features into the objects of everyday use.

The introduction of electric vehicles in the market has opened up a whole new avenue for the car manufacturers. Right now all the major car brands are competing with each other in order to provide the latest technologies in their cars. The ultimate objective is to create an autonomous car that has the self-driving capability as well as the situational awareness of its environment. Needless to say, these cars need to pass the safety tests and regulations, and require a lot of testing.

One of the most important enabling technologies in the autonomous vehicles is the GPS because without a flawless navigation system it is virtually impossible to construct a self-driving car. Accurate, precise and real-time calculation of coordinates, speed, obstructions and weather conditions is required to operate an autonomous car safely. GPS plays an important role in providing all these features.

However, GPS has its own limitations as well. GPS does not work correctly when there are obstructions such as high rise buildings, and underground passages. These issues can cause the car to malfunction which can be fatal. Hence, the modern autonomous cars rely on a combination of technologies which provides a high level of safety and redundancy. GPS in conjunction with other technologies provides advanced features in autonomous cars such as trip information, fleet management, vehicle theft recovery, urban traffic control, restraint deployment, speed adaption, and automatic lane shifting.


Figure 6: A schematic showing how researchers at UC Riverside are using existing communications signals to complement satellite-based navigation systems like GPS for the control of driverless cars and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Credit: University of California – Riverside.
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In this article, we have discussed GPS technology which is a type of GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System). The GPS technology was originally developed for military use by the US department of defense and was controlled by the US air force. This technology was eventually made available to the general public for civilian applications. Today there are millions of devices with integrated GPS receivers including smartphones. The GPS technology is crucial for modern navigation systems and finds its applications in the areas of personal navigation, autonomous cars, cellular telephony, meteorology, and aviation. Although the modern navigation systems are not solely dependent on GPS technology nonetheless it is an important subsystem of the overall navigation system in advanced applications.

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