GPS Fleet Tracking

The History & Evolution of GPS Tracking Devices

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We know the importance of GPS tracking devices for our fleet businesses. GPS tracking helps us monitor driver location, get updates on vehicle status, and keep our fleet safe and effective. But you may not be aware of the long history of GPS tracking. This article will explore the history of tracking and GPS. 

The Beginning (1950s and 1960s)

You may be surprised to learn that GPS technology dates back to the space race. In 1957, Russia launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth successfully. Scientists at John Hopkins University realized that the signal emitted by the satellite would increase when the satellite was close and decrease as it moved away. This became known as the Doppler Effect. 

They used the Doppler Effect to make another conclusion. If they could determine the satellite’s position from the ground based on the signal's strength. Using this frequency shift, they should also be able to determine the location of a receiver on the ground based on its distance from a satellite. 

Thus, the first GPS was born thanks to the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). This system was called Transit, and it launched in 1960 for military and commercial uses. 

The Navy took over this technology, and by 1968 there were 36 satellites up in space and fully operational. During the ‘60s, the technology was advanced even further using microprocessors, computers, and bandwidth utilization techniques. 

Navstar (1970s)

The U.S. Air Force developed a series of Navstar satellites in 1974. This system of 24 satellites used atomic clocks at medium Earth orbits. The U.S. Department of Defense launched the first satellite in 1978. More satellites were launched that year, and through 700 tests that took place by 1979, aerospace engineers confirmed the satellites’ accuracy. 

Commercialization (1980s)

In 1983, President Regan authorized the use of GPS for commercial airlines to improve safety for air travel. This was the first step towards allowing civilian usage. 

In 1989, the first commercially available hand-held GPS units were released. With their popularity, the Department of Defense became concerned that enemies of the U.S. could use the technology. In response, they implemented “selective availability,” which would adjust the system to be less accurate in non-military applications. 


GPS technology first appeared in cell phones in 1999 and shortly afterward became present in vehicles. In 2000, the government ended the “selective availability”program, making GPS systems ten times more accurate for users. The price for GPS processing chips also decreased – where they once cost $3,000 to purchase, now they only cost $1.50.

Meanwhile, the military worked to modernize GPS. The GPS III program added new signals to GPS satellites that had yet to launch. The first fully modernized GPS satellite was launched in 2010, and the rest were in orbit by 2017. 

Get the Best GPS System

If you’re not tracking your fleet with GPS, you may be at a significant disadvantage. Azuga’s state-of-the-art fleet tracking technology works with real-time accuracy, taking advantage of all the advancements in GPS technology. Schedule a demo with one of our experts and check out what we can do together.