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Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to...

June 18, 2009 - Art Smith
The GPS, one of the world’s greatest gadgets, has now crossed into the sub $100 range. This means that I, and most of the traveling public, now own one.

GPS, short for Global Navigation Satellite System, has been in use for a relatively short amount of time, The system first went into use in 1995, in the 14 years its use has become wide-spread enough that it can now be found on the windshield of nearly every car on the nation’s interstate system.

The system was in development for years as the U.S. military worked on ways to precisely identify where our forces were located.

In 1983 Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down after it strayed into the USSR's prohibited airspace, a short time later President Reagan order the developing system to be made available to everyone.

The system works by using a network of around 30 satellites located around the planet. By measuring how long a signal takes to get from space to the wallet-size devices, it can be determined exactly where your location is anywhere on earth.  The satellites are about 13,000 miles above ground so most devices can see around a dozen of them at any one time.

I’ve had my unit since Christmas, a gift from my wife after I somehow missed the town of Clarksburg when returning from a business trip. As with any new toy, I love to annoy the family by using it locally to map a route to places I have driven to for years.

Last week I gave it a good workout though by using it to drive to Memphis, Tennessee. Just plug in the address of where you want to go and you are on your way. Granted the routes at time seem odd, the device always got us to our destination.

As the device announced upcoming turns and loudly beeped when I exceed the speed limit my family talked about the good old days of pre-GPS travel. There was the time last year where I made the wrong turn in Washington D.C. and my kids got to see their first drug bust, then there were the old road maps that you could never get folded back correctly.  When I was a child my dad would always have a giant road Atlas to mark the way.

GPS in being integrated into a variety of devices, computers, phones and cameras for instance. When photos are transferred to the web for example, their precise geographic location can be marked on a map. Integration is certain to become even greater as the size and cost of the devices continue to drop.

The invention, which is still relatively new in terms of a product, has made it possible to give  every square yard of the planet can have a defined location.

This blog for instance is being written at Latitude 39.547462N and Longitude of 81.642654W at an altitude of 646 feet above sea level, a location that by the way also has free internet access.


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