Global Positioning System (GPS) is a location method developed by the US Department of Defense with military purposes to provide accurate estimations of position, speed and time. In operation since 1995, it constantly uses a computer network and a set of 24 satellites to determine, by triangulation, the altitude, longitude and latitude of any object on the surface of the earth.
In the civilian scope, due to security reasons, only a subset of GPS signals is available for use. However, the civilian community has found alternatives to obtain remarkable location accuracy using differential techniques. Thanks to these techniques, civilian applications have experienced a huge growth and currently there are more than 70 GPS receiver manufacturers throughout the world.
Working principles of the GPS
To set a position, the GPS navigator automatically locates at least 3 satellites within the network, from which it receives signals indicating the position and the time elapsed in each satellite’s clock. The GPS navigator synchronizes its watch and calculates the signal delay based on the distance from the satellite, thus calculating its position.
Having estimated the distance, the GPS’s own relative position as to the three satellites is easily established. Knowing the position coordinates of each one of those satellites based on their signals, the absolute position or real coordinates of the point or measurement are then obtained.
This apparently complicated operation offers results with error margins of just a few meters.
Applications of GPS
Global positioning systems have multiple fields of application. Below is a list of some civilian applications of the GPS:
- Study of atmospheric phenomena to create meteorological prediction models.
- Location and navigation in deserted regions as an aid in research expeditions through difficult access regions.
- Geological and topographic models to study the movement of tectonic plates to predict earthquakes.
- In civil engineering, to monitor, in real time, the deformation of large metal or concrete structures subjected to loads (bridges, viaducts, etc.)
- Automated alarm systems connected to sensors with built-in GPS receivers to supervise perishable cargo (fresh and frozen foods). In this case, the generation of an alarm allows for a quick assistance to the vehicle.
- Synchronization of electric signals to locate possible malfunctions in the electric system.
- As a guide for people with physical disabilities (devices to assist blind people in moving around the city). In this same line of thought, the tourist industry is studying the incorporation of the positioning system to guided tours in order to optimize trips throughout the different parts of a given route.
- Navigation, control and surveillance of fleets of vehicles, police and emergency service units (fire department, ambulances, etc.), taxi headquarters, courier services, product distribution companies, etc. In all these activities, tasks can be organized to optimize routes from the headquarters to the destination.
- Positioning in air navigation. Today, the GPS is used in civilian aviation, in domestic and transoceanic flights as well as in the landing operation.
Use and utility of the GPS in personal safety
GPS devices have flooded the market with many different purposes: trekking, hiking and even mobile phone technologies have incorporated it as personal location and navigation devices. However, one of the most popular applications is its use in the surveillance of personal and cargo vehicles, not to mention its valuable use in the location of victims of kidnapping and stolen vehicles.
GPS for vehicles
GPS technology has evolved in the field of security in such a way that its use in vehicles has made it an important element capable of providing information about the moves of any method of transportation, whether a personal vehicle or one that is part of a fleet. It not only accurately recognizes the location or speed of one or several vehicles anywhere in the world, but also allows for their deactivation as well as listening to what’s happening inside them or even talking to the people in them.
These systems can be set up to be monitored from GSM smartphones or portable/desktop computers, thus allowing their users to be always aware of the location of their staff and vehicles in private, with the possibility to view a virtual map of all of their moves.
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