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What Is a GPS & How Does It Work?

Introduction to GPS

The GPS also known as Global Positioning System is a global navigation system that runs on satellites that are active 24/7 (Library Of Congress, 2011). Development of the GPS was initially started by the US for military purposes; they would guide their troops and navigate them away from danger or would use this to launch missiles on a targeted area. Only recently during the early 2000’s been the GPS released to the public by the US and made it free to access to anyone that owns a GPS receiver. Due to its various uses and availability the GPS started to gain popularity amongst people, in fact it has also helped in shaping the world into what it is today.

The GPS system has become global and massive. It is used in most of our vehicles and smart phones to get us around – its main purpose is to guide us to our location when we are lost, or for looking up a location. Like smart phones and email, this technology has become a key part of our modern day society. It has become a useful tool in our lives that we now have started to depend upon. GPS has replaced maps and has become the key tool of navigation. GPS is now also used in games and other application such as Facebook.

GPS system works via detecting signals from GPS satellites located in space (Gray, 2012). The GPS system detects these signals via a GPS receiver (Bertagna, 2010). The GPS receiver detects the radio waves from satellites and then tries to find your location by calculating the time it took for the signal to reach the receiver. After calculating the time it took, it determines the location of the satellite and then determines how far it is from the satellite. By using trilateration it then calculates your location. Trilateration is a mathematical process which uses circles and triangles to calculate distance and area of a place.

Common uses of GPS

GPS has become a part of our daily lives ever since the US government released it to the public, our everyday devices have been equipped with GPS technology to assist us and enhance our experience (Saha, 2014) (Fortenberry, 2016). Everyday devices such as smartphones, tablets, vehicles and even packages we buy online have a small tracking device fitted in that constantly tracks its location, keeping the customer updated every minute. In fact, aeroplanes nowadays require a GPS tracker, which assists pilots in figuring out the route to their destination mid-air. This technology also helps control rooms in airports keep track of the aeroplanes current location. In fact, even passengers can view their current locations inflight through the entertainment system. It’s not just aeroplanes that have inaugurated this technology but most of the vehicles being manufactured today come with a built in GPS system which helps drivers in setting a location and discovering the fastest way to reach it (Horban, 2009). This built in GPS technology also assists in tracking down stolen vehicles, which helps create a decline in car theft and gives a strong sense of security to the customer.


The following graph taken from “Rewire Security” gives graphical evidence of a decline in car theft due to the implementation of a GPS system providing better and improved security. (Trading, 2014)


Increase in GPS usage between teenagers

Since GPS is now completely open for use to the public, many companies have started to develop software’s that utilize the GPS system. Most GPS software’s are found in mobile app stores these days since mobile phones are a common GPS using device. Moreover, since teenagers are often the age group that uses smartphones the most, quite a lot of the GPS apps are designed with the purpose of entertainment, which led to a huge rise of teenagers getting involved with such entertainment based apps. Entertainment apps which are booming between teenagers are mostly game or dating related (Collier, 2012) . Let’s take the example of Pokémon Go that came out quite recently, that game was a massive success due to the fact that it involved players leaving their house and going around different locations capturing Pokémon’s. Pokémon Go’s main feature involved using a GPS tracker to track the player’s location as he would travel certain distances and to different areas. Pokémon Go has also used the GPS system to mark important landmarks as “Pokéstops” where players can buy items by using their points. This would not be possible without GPS technology. What’s important to consider here is how such a simple concept became very popular and addictive between teenagers, it is intriguing how a simple system that was used initially solely for the purpose of navigation has now turned into a means of entertainment.

GPS systems are more often used by older teens in comparison to younger teens since parents do not give younger teens the freedom of roaming around the city since it is not safe for a child to roam around the city without parent supervision. Older teenagers however, tend to have a driver’s license or some other means of transport and a lot of independence. Older teens tend to be given a lot more freedom in most parts of the world. Moreover, they often have to go to multiple places such as university, college, library and at times even their part time jobs. However, quite a lot of issues have appeared at the hands of GPS apps. Such as teens being addicted to the game Pokémon Go and not caring about their own safety and walking around dangerous places. Moreover, GPS systems have also been adopted by dating apps now which has caused a lot of distress among parents. There has also been malpractice of the GPS apps at the hands of parents too.

Some parents install apps which can allow them to track the location of their children via their children’s phone. This is an act of intruding a person’s personal privacy. Due to how GPS trackers have various different uses, we have certain situations where we begin to question whether it’s really ethical to use such powerful technology in the way we have, which leads to social and ethical concerns being raised.

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