October 03, 2017
Carbyne Staff

Going from an error rate of 25 meters in GPS to 2.5 meters is huge.
Going to 25 centimeters is going to matter just as much

Astro Teller

Cast your mind back 21 years ago. It’s hard to imagine it, but it was only in 1996 that Global Positioning Systems, GPS, was declared available for civilian usage. 21 years ago there was no Google Maps, no TomTom, Uber, and even MapQuest was using primitive static maps to display routes.

Today, we are blessed with an abundance of mapping software that is all backed by constantly roving satellites in space that can pinpoint us down to only a few feet. The immediate consequence of GPS is evident. If you require any kind of assistance, needing anything from a taxi to a pizza, the smartphone in your pocket can immediately hook itself up to the constellation of 31 satellites that are floating hundreds of miles above the Earth.

Today, GPS is an everyday part of life, and it permeates almost every single piece of technology that we own. GPS technology is in our phones, cars, homes, and tablets. Since its inception in the 1960s, GPS has steadily improved its location tracking capabilities. As the number of satellites has increased, and the associated technology in devices has leapfrogged, accuracy has gotten wildly better. Before 1999, civilian GPS was limited to 100m accuracy (about the length of a football field). Overnight, that limitation was slashed to the around 5m accuracy that we have today. How? President Clinton removed a Department of Defence ‘blurring’ on commercial GPS mapping. Today, the US government is committed to consistently updating and advancing GPS signals and technology.

But there remain some drawbacks with GPS technology.

Due to the nature of GPS, of satellites in space connecting with devices on Earth, the signal can be severely impacted by a range of variables including solar flares, electromagnetic inference, and large, double-brick buildings and solid walls. One of the primary reasons that GPS lags in finding an accurate location is because the device has to connect with a minimum of 3 satellites to pinpoint the latitude and longitude coordinates.

What these limitations mean is that it can sometimes be difficult for GPS to acquire locations.

For a public safety company that specializes in accurate location, the restrictions of GPS are a core part of our daily lives.

The current way that 911 identifies callers, through a process of bidding and rebidding cell tower triangulations, can take upwards of several minutes. By using GPS, we can cut those times down to less than 30 seconds. However, while we strive to display the accurate location instantly, there can be a slight delay as the satellites connect with the device.

GPS technology is constantly evolving. Starting as a method to track submarines, it has since flourished into one of the most significant technical feats of the 20th Century. With almost every modern phone, tablet, and car having a GPS receiver inside it, there are billions of devices currently able to locate users no matter where they are in the world.

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