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What is GPS Tracking and How Does It Work?

September 30, 2019

Today’s GPS technology has become a big part of modern life and GPS tracking is a process at the heart of any vehicle tracking system. You likely encounter this sort of technology at work and in your daily life, but do you really understand it? And do you know how to make the most of GPS tracking to boost your commercial fleet’s efficiency and safety records?

Here, we will explain the basis of GPS tracking, including how it works, what it can be used for, and a little about the basics and origins of modern GPS systems. So the next time you encounter this technology, you’ll be able to appreciate the wonderful way it improves your life.

What is GPS?

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. It refers to a network of 24 satellites in orbit and devices on the ground that can establish a person or object’s location on Earth with astonishing precision. GPS actually tracks three separate data sets: positioning, navigation, and timing.

You may not realize it but this technology has been around for a long time. GPS was originally created for military use in the 1960s. In 1983, GPS became available for public use, and the technology has only grown from there. Today, it’s used for everything from precision military maneuvers in foreign lands to kids playing mobile phone games in your neighborhood.

How GPS Tracking Works

GPS requires the use of many satellites orbiting the Earth. These satellites continually broadcast their locations and status above us. This is continually monitored by the GPS Master Control Station, as well as other tracking and monitoring stations here on the ground, to ensure accuracy and proper function. The Master Control Station is also responsible for maintenance and correction, should anything go wrong.

A GPS device on Earth receives these signals, interpreting each one’s unique data. By mapping the locations of four or more satellites in relation to the tracking device, it can triangulate its exact position in three-dimensional space. More satellites are often used to validate data and provide a more accurate location reading.

What is GPS Tracking Used For?

You’re probably familiar with some of the most common uses for GPS technology, but there are others you may have never considered. GPS is an important part of all sorts of operations, from the military, to our first responders, to commercial and personal use.

Military

GPS began in the military more than 50 years ago, and the military continues to use it to track aircraft, troop movements, navigation at sea, and more. GPS navigation in the military is especially important for those stationed in unfamiliar territory or units moving at night.

More recently, new GPS technology has allowed the military to make use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). These UAVs (sometimes referred to as drones) are a life-saving technology as they allow us to see and operate in some of the most dangerous places on Earth, without putting our servicemen and women in harm’s way. They can be operated remotely and are often used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.

Search and Rescue

GPS plays an important role in search and rescue operations, allowing rescue personnel to keep track of the locations they’ve covered, look at the big picture in a search operation, or even pull GPS data directly from a lost individual’s GPS device or phone.

When a search and rescue operation is looking for survivors from a major disaster or trying to locate a missing person in an undeveloped area, they use a grid system. This ensures that each area is searched thoroughly, and no area is searched twice at the expense of other locations. Years ago, search and rescue operations were conducted with a pencil and paper. This method could at times be inaccurate and confusing for volunteers. Today search and rescue teams often are equipped with GPS trackers to ensure a more accurate search pattern.

Vehicle Tracking

GPS tracking has a number of commercial uses, but perhaps one of the most powerful is the deployment of GPS devices to track commercial fleets. By having a GPS on every vehicle, companies with fleets can keep track of exact driver location and status, glean powerful insights about fleet efficiency, and be able to provide roadside assistance immediately if necessary.

GPS is a vital part of modern fleet tracking systems in order to keep track of vehicle activity and location, improving safety and efficiency. While some were concerned that this technology would function like “big brother” and cause labor disputes with fleet drivers, it has proven to be a worthy inclusion in any fleet’s operations. In addition to making dispatch and routing easier and more accurate, GPS systems in vehicles have been shown to reduce accidents by 38% for small businesses. This means safer roads for everyone and a better reputation for your brand’s fleet.

Recreational Use

Beyond the vital safety and life-saving applications for this technology, you’ve probably experienced some of the recreational uses for GPS. It has become a common tool for outdoor enthusiasts. Some activities, such as geocaching, rely on GPS tracking entirely to be possible. Others, such as mountain biking, distance running, or hiking, are enhanced by the addition of GPS tracking, which can provide input on speed, distance traveled, and exact location in the wilderness.

With the growth in smartphone usage, most of us now carry a GPS tracking device everywhere we go. This means we can now use this technology in new and novel ways, from AR (augmented reality) applications to the ability to location-based games, we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of the ways GPS can be used for fun and recreation.