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What is GPS: Explaining the Global Positioning System

GPS is by and far the most commonly used technology in today’s time. From commercial uses to our daily lives, GPS is being used every single day. In this article, we explain all about GPS, its working and its various uses.

What is GPS?

The Global Positioning System, or GPS, is a satellite based navigation system that is used worldwide. This system is tasked with providing coordinate data related to positioning for various purposes, including civilian utility, military capabilities and commercial activities. Originally termed as NAVSTAR GPS, this radio-navigation system is developed and owned by the United States government.

GPS particularly utilises four or more satellites to accurately provide location and time information of entities, which is captured by a GPS receiver. GPS was initially established to provide a helping hand only for military usage. Later, however, the system was made available for everyone across the globe, freely accessible if a GPS receiver is present. Many industries utilise GPS for commercial purposes, from shipment and logistics to passenger transportation, etc.

GPS is one of the major Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), apart from other regional geolocation systems including GLONASS (Russia), Galileo (European Union), BeiDou (China), Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (Japan), and India’s very own Navigation Indian Constellation (NavIC). NavIC, previously known as Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), has been specially designed keeping India’s varied topography and different terrains in mind, covering the entire subcontinent and 1500 km beyond. NavIC works with the help of a system of 7 orbiting satellites.

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What is a GPS system? How does it work?

A GPS system can be defined as a location tracking system that makes use of GPS to find exact location coordinates in order to identify metrics such as velocity and time. With the help of GPS, this system uses a minimum of 24 satellites to obtain the location coordinates, and a receiver to obtain and process the data. A GPS system can be utilised for location identification for land, air and sea travel.

A GPS system is a reliable source of location tracking and navigation since it is constructed to work at all times and in different weather conditions. A GPS system can be broken down to contain 3 different entities, namely the GPS, GPS receivers and the control unit. The GPS identifies the location data and transmits it to the GPS receiver, where it is processed to display relevant information to the user. The control unit comprises of 5 ground stations that are tasked with ensuring proper functionality of the satellites.

A GPS system works in the following manner: The satellites that form a part of the Global Positioning System sends unique microwave signals about parameters such as location coordinates and time as they circle the earth’s orbit. These signals are then received by a GPS receiver, which is a device that interprets these signals. The exact location is discerned when the GPS device catches and processes signals from at least four satellites in the system.

As the GPS device moves, a new location position keeps getting recorded. This information is then utilised, along with the time provided by the satellite, to calculate the velocity and other parameters such as distance between two points and the estimated time of arrival. The entire GPS system ecosystem works at an accuracy of within 30 cm.

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What is GPS tracking and how does it work?

When a GPS system is put into use to track and monitor the location and position of an entity, it is known as GPS tracking. There are many commercial and industrial uses of GPS tracking, from asset protection to employee monitoring. The working of GPS tracking depends on the type of tracking system that is employed, either active or passive.

An active GPS tracking system, or a real-time tracking system, is the one that relays information in real time. Here, the data obtained by the GPS is directly transmitted to the receiver, processed and displayed to the user, all in real time. An active GPS tracking system is well suited for businesses that have a larger fleet size, or valuable cargo that needs to be shipped so that a keen eye is kept on each movement of the vehicle. It is also utilised in cases wherein the navigational aspect of GPS is required.

On the other hand, a passive GPS tracking system receives and records data in internal memory, or a memory card, but does not make it available to the user instantly. Instead, in order to access the data, the user needs to unplug the device, download the data and then analyse the location information after the journey has been made.

What are the uses of GPS?

Predominantly made for military uses, GPS today has a wide variety of application in the commercial sphere. It comes handy for businesses to determine accurate location, time schedules and distance mapping, along with easy navigation. Some of the areas where GPS is effectively used in industries are:

  1. Fleet Tracking

Logistics companies across the globe rely on GPS to keep an eye on their fleet as it moves from one place to another. The live tracking feature of GPS allows fleet managers to stay updated with the exact position of their fleet, thus helping them manage delivery schedules with ease. Along with that, with the help of distance mapping, fleet managers are able to chart out optimised routes for their fleet to take, thus saving on time and money.

  1. Employee Monitoring

Many organisations utilise GPS to monitor the whereabouts and productivity of their employees during working hours. This practice takes place to ensure that valuable company time is not wasted, and at the same time employee efficiency is maximised. It also generates a sense of accountability within the employees, since they are aware that their duty hours are being monitored.

  1. Emergency Services

Emergency response services, such as ambulances, fire brigade, rescue teams, etc., use GPS to ensure that quick and timely aid is provided to those in need. With the help of GPS, these emergency service providers are able to identify the shortest route possible to the destination, along with obtain the exact accurate location of those in distress.

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