There are certain things that people may not fully appreciate until they understand its past.
In the last 25 years, there have been some serious advancements in automotive technology. In fact, the smart key only came into the market in 1998, less than 20 years ago. Two years before that, cars were updated with the revolutionary On-Board Diagnostics II. A few years before that, GM launched the EV1, one of the first modern electric vehicles.
The list of technological advancements is tremendous. Each one is an important contributor to the progress of automotive technology. But, one of the most interesting advancements in automotive tech was adopted out of military engineering: the global positioning system.
GPS satellite navigation
For many people, the annual cross-country road trip was a rite of passage. And before the installation of GPS technology in commercial vehicles, this was partially true. After all, who can forget the bundle of fold-out maps or the old-fashioned “TripTik” travel planners from AAA?
In those days, the journey was more important than the destination. The advent of GPS navigation in commercial vehicles in the turn of the 21st century changed all of that.
Some aspect of GPS navigation was afforded in commercial vehicles in the mid-to-late ‘90s. Oldsmobile for example, had Guidestar, a GPS navigation system for its customers. But the U.S. government deliberately limited the GPS functionality of Guidestar. It wasn’t until 2000 that the full capabilities of GPS technology were installed into commercial vehicles, with new luxury vehicles like the BMW 7-Series laying claim on this technology.
Since then, paper trails have made way for digital ones. GPS technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, with many drivers now opting for mobile navigation tools like smartphones and dash-top units.
The history of GPS
While everyone may know that the GPS relies on networks of satellites to display positioning information, few know why those satellites were put there in the first place.
Applied by the U.S. military during the height of the Cold War, the global positioning system was originally built to assist military and intelligence applications. This included providing guidance systems for ships, missiles, and submarines.
The original constellation of satellites were a cluster of five satellites known as TRANSIT. TRANSIT orbited the Earth and provided position information to relevant GPS receivers every hour. Seven years later, TRANSIT was succeeded by the Timation satellite which broadcasted accurate time references. The Timation satellite soon became the prerequisite for today’s functioning GPS systems.
President Ronald Reagan was the first commander-in-chief to approve GPS for civilian use. Soon after, President Bill Clinton ordered that the highest quality GPS signals be made available for commercial use in vehicles such as airplanes and automotive.
The state of GPS today
Military forces around the world still make use of GPS tracking technology today. The reliable navigation information has become an invaluable tool for military forces since it became fully operational.
Currently, there are 31 operational satellites orbiting Earth, providing accurate positioning continuously. GPS provides tactical information necessary to meet a diverse range of operational requirements.
In some countries – such as the United Arab Emirates – the leading military armored vehicle manufacturer utilizes GPS in its advanced military vehicles. This includes a variety of applications, from search and rescue operations, geographical surveying, and logistics management.
GPS also has wide applications within commercial industries. Trucking fleets, law enforcement agencies, and everyday drivers benefit from GPS. GPS aids in radar-based cruise control, which allows vehicles to maintain safe driving distances between cars. This reduces accidents and increases overall driver safety.
GPS tracking increases driver productivity. The implementation of GPS creates effective routes to your determined locations. This minimizes fuel consumption and driver time in route. For companies that operate automotive fleets, GPS is an indispensable tool for overall productivity and cost-saving practices.
The future of GPS
In recent years, Google’s self-driving car, the Waymo, has populated roads and highways. With the help of GPS tracking, this autonomous vehicle is paving the way for future use. Ridesharing, trucking, and even personal use autonomous vehicles are just beyond the horizon.
The increased capabilities of today’s GPS satellites mean enabling military users to continue to operate effectively despite the presence of interference. This allows military forces to continue to pick up and retain satellite signals in the presence of high levels of electromagnetic interference.
The improved capabilities of GPS receivers, coupled with modernized GPS satellites, allow military forces to remain combat effective despite the asymmetric nature of modern warfare.
Cars have come a long way in the last quarter-century. Indeed, the advent of GPS technology became an important turning point in how people view road trips today. Nowadays, getting lost is an adventure waiting to be discovered.
What impact has GPS had on your own life? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Miles Chambers is Senior International Business Development and Sales Manager, NIMR Automotive LLC . He joined NIMR Automotive in October 2016 as Senior International Business Development and Sales Manager. In this capacity, Miles oversees NIMR Automotive’s expansion to Global markets, particularly into Europe and Southeast Asia.