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3 GPS Wednesdays

GPS Wednesdays: February 11

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GPS 101

Many people understand generally what it means when someone says GPS but most people do not know how or what a GPS can be useful for. Typically a GPS is used to determine where you are which is not really a benefit in populated areas since we have street signs and other landmarks to guide us. Inexpensive maps can also show us exactly where we are thus a device costing $100.00 or more is not something the average person is willing to invest in. Keep in mind that street signs and maps are only as good as the person using these tools since the information only provides a point of reference only. The user must use the information effectively to reach the final destination. This method is easily prone to human error.

The GPS technology consists originally of 24 orbiting satellites. Anyone that has a GPS unit can detect anywhere from 6 – 10 satellites which are in direct line of sight from any point on earth theoretically. In actuality, we have to deal with buildings, mountains, and trees therefore the number can easily be anywhere from 0 – 6. For the GPS to correctly triangulate your current location, a minimum of 3 satellites must be continuously detected. 4+ satellite detection ensures a higher level of accuracy.

GPS Satellites - Image: Wikipedia

GPS Satellites - Image: Wikipedia


The GPS unit will determine the longitude and latitude of its location which will then be positioned on top of a regional map. This will provide the user the current location visually. Typically, the accuracy is within 10 meters and I have experienced as good as 5 meters.

Here is a small list of what a GPS unit can be good for:

- Determine current location.

- Determine the location of other people. A cellphone with a built in GPS can be contacted via SMS (text messasging) and another SMS can be relayed back to the origianl SMS sender with location details.

- Surveying: information can be collected about a given region and tagged with specific location information.

- A highly accurate clock is contained within each satellite therefore detailed time and date information can also be recorded with the exact location information.

- Search and rescue: Users or pets with GPS trackers can be quickly located in emergency situations.

- Traffic information can be displayed in conjunction with GPS information to coordinate travel routes to minimize travel time.

- Fish finders nowadays have GPS units combined to track and record suitable fishing locations.

- GPS is very handy for astronomers to determine the exact orientation of the night sky. The location of the stars will vary depending on the longitude and latitude. A GPS will allow you to locate a reference star to guide you through the night sky to locate other stars, constellations and planets.

- By combining the GPS location details and the clock together, a PDA based software program can continuously track an individuals activity thereby allowing details information to be gathered for use in an exercise program. Jogging for example the GPS logger can determine distance travelled in X amount of time therefore details like the estimated amount of calories burned and current level of activity based on previously recorded stats.

Consumer GPS units where typically $300.00 – $1000.00 but have continued to drop in price with the lower price range being under $100.00 nowadays. Keep in mind that the lower priced units will require a computer system of some kind to connect to.


GPS units designed for the automobile can be very useful for those frequent travellers. Exact routing information can be displayed with voice prompts. Great for travelling along unfamiliar territory. Off road 4 X 4 activities can be more envigorating and safe when a GPS can clearly define safe routes ahead. When you are planning on purchasing an auto GPS for your own vehicle. You must take care in purchasing one that is suitable for your specific car.

I would recommend a GPS that has a rechargeable battery, a car lighter adapter and a separate cabled GPS antenna.

Having a rechargeable battery included will allow the unit to operate without being connected to the cars battery when the engine is not running.

A separate GPS antenna will allow you to position the reciever in a location that provides the best access to the information displayed plus allowing the antenna to recieve the strongest signal. Features in the car like the defroster build into the windows and thick metal body work can jam or block the GPS signals. Reflected signals will cause inaccurate readings thus a direct line of sight is required for the antenna placement. Suction cups are generally provided with the antenna allowing easily attachment.

As the salesperson if he/she has actually used any or all of the GOS units they carry to get a feel of what will be suitable for your own situation. It is always a good idea to read up on various makes and models ahead of time before heading out to your local dealer. A little research can greatly reduce headaches after the purchase.

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