The Evolution of GPS Technology

GPS systems have evolved tremendously since first being introduced to the United States military in 1978.  Launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, California, NAVASTAR 1 was officially the first of 24 satellites to make up the Global Positioning System.  Since then, GPS has revolutionized how the United States goes to war and provides a way for the world to enjoy accurate navigation.

A Little GPS History

The U.S. government didn’t make GPS available to civilians until the late 1980s, and even then, the technology was limited to “Selective Availability,” which basically restricted consumers to signals of lesser quality.  The earlier civilian systems were a far cry from what is available now.  And while the military still keeps the most advanced and accurate systems classified for national security operations, the significant upgrades in civil signals have greatly enhanced reliability and accuracy for public use.

In the year 2000, Selective Availability was discontinued due to a 1996 executive order, thus allowing consumers throughout the world to receive non-degraded GPS signals.  In 2004, announcements of various successful tests were made, paving the way for the implementation of GPS in mobile phones and other applications commonly used today.

GPS Today

Today, consumers get the benefit of incredible accuracy thanks to features such as 12-parallel channel design.  Devices equipped with this functionality have the ability to quickly lock onto the satellites when first powered on.  They are able to maintain a strong lock despite dense foliage or areas with tall buildings by continuously tracking signals from multiple satellites at any given time.  Even if a 12-parallel GPS device loses signals from more than one satellite, it will still function properly because of its lock on the others.

Depending on the unit, a GPS device only requires a signal from three to four satellites in order to calculate position.  A quality unit will perform flawlessly in all weather conditions any time, virtually anywhere in the world.   Unlike a mobile phone, you don’t have to pay any subscription fees or setup charges to operate a GPS receiver.  However, some devices do offer support for additional features that require a monthly fee.  One the other hand, GPS receivers, such as some of those by TomTom, arrive with free real-time traffic for the life of the unit.

GPS devices are widely available these days and seamless integration with various technologies allows the underlying system to provide benefits for everything from public safety and disaster relief to agriculture and recreation.


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