The Global Positioning System (GPS) began as a project owned by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1973. Soon after, satellites were placed in the sky to realize this navigation method, which uses longitudinal and latitudinal lines to help people mark the exact position of buildings and places anywhere in the world. It’s synonymous with travel, whether we’re looking at the GPS units in our car’s dash or referencing coordinates of the world’s landmarks. Yet, with so many technological advancements, you might be wondering: Have GPS units become obsolete?
If you’re wondering whether GPS units are obsolete, the short answer is no. However, there are some promising developments coming out of the world’s top universities that could bolster our current GPS satellite systems. So, here’s a closer look at how the GPS system is
naturally evolving, but also an explanation as to why you can expect GPS to remain a staple in modern navigation for decades to come.
ARE GPS UNITS OBSOLETE?
For those unfamiliar with the GPS network of satellites and the similar technology that backs the European Union’s Galileo and the Russian’s GLONASS, it consists of about 73 satellites orbiting the earth up to 12,000 miles above the surface. This network produces extremely accurate navigation capabilities.
As such, GPS units are not obsolete. In fact, they’re far from it. As of right now, there are no plans to replace the GPS navigation system as there are simply no viable options to do so. Even if feasible alternatives were being developed, it would take decades before a system was created and tested to match the level of functionality and reliability of our current GPS satellites.
In other words, our current GPS system operates with such a rate of accuracy and confidence that it will likely never become truly obsolete. Instead, researchers are looking to bolster existing GPS technology with some complementary solutions, but even those will take years of research and development before they are launched.
NEW TECHNOLOGIES MAY IMPROVE GPS NAVIGATION
The GPS system as we know it is highly accurate, but there are some inherent limitations. That’s why researchers are currently looking at ways to complement it. If you’ve ever found yourself without a map in your car, you’ve experienced some of its limitations. Because GPS requires a good view of the sky to communicate with the satellite network above the earth, our GPS system is greatly limited when traveling through tunnels, heavily forested areas, or even places where a tall building or mountain could cut off the line of sight to a satellite.
This specific limitation of the GPS navigation system is what researchers are focusing on when they discuss the relevancy of GPS. Even still, they are not looking to replace it, but to merely bolster it with the addition of new technologies. One of the main sources of inspiration that researchers are turning to is nature itself. Namely, researchers have been studying the incredible way that ants navigate. They can travel up to 0.6 miles in the desert with seemingly no landmarks, and find their way back to the nest without getting lost.
While it is often assumed that desert ants navigate by scent, they actually can detect bands of polarized light, allowing them to navigate using a celestial compass. To mimic this incredible navigational technique, the French National Center for Scientific Research has developed the AntBot, which navigates in the same way using UV light sensors. AntBot also counts its steps to help keep track of how it’s moving relative to the sun, assuring that its measurements are highly precise, resulting in readings down to a single centimeter, versus an accuracy range of about 16 feet for standard GPS systems.
Given the promising technology, other universities are also working on ant-inspired navigational systems. As for which one, if any, will make it into daily use, that’s yet to be seen.
WHY GPS UNITS REMAIN RELEVANT
With so much talk of improving the GPS navigation system, and more reminders that the GPS system as is remains one of the most monumental human undertakings in history, it becomes clear that GPS navigation in itself will never become irrelevant. Even with complementary technologies, we will likely continue to utilize the GPS satellite network for decades to come. But, what about GPS units?
Since most people carry smartphones in their pockets or have a car with a GPS navigation system already integrated, do you really need a GPS unit to tap into the GPS network? While it may seem like a GPS unit is no longer necessary, there are a number of reasons why people—especially professionals in the transportation industry—will never go without a dedicated exterior GPS unit.
Most smartphones do not have the same GPS signal strength as a dedicated GPS unit, and the same goes for some units built into car dashboards.
Most GPS units offer their own power supply, which means they will continue working even if the vehicle loses power.
In an emergency situation, you can generally take a GPS unit mounted on your dash out of the vehicle and use it to navigate to a safe point on foot.
Dedicated GPS units offer tracking capabilities beyond that of the vehicle or equipment it’s being used in, ensuring that the equipment can be found if lost or stolen.
If you’re interested in learning more about the specific features that you can unlock with a dedicated GPS unit, don’t hesitate to reach out to LandAirSea for help.
WILL GPS EVER BE REPLACED?
When the U.S. Department of Defense undertook the GPS project in 1973, it wasn’t until five years later that the satellites were launched. It wasn’t fully operational until 1995—a whole 22 years in development. In other words, these advancements don’t happen overnight, but they are in progress to help bolster the GPS system as we know it.
As to whether GPS units themselves will ever become obsolete, even then the answer is “unlikely.” While smartphones make it convenient to tap into the GPS network when no dedicated unit is available, a dedicated GPS unit offers benefits beyond navigation—including an emergency power supply, stronger signal strength, and tracking capabilities.
So, for the foreseeable future, your best bet is to invest in a solid navigation system that will help you keep your drivers on track without losing GPS signal. LandAirSea can provide more information on our GPS systems if you’re shopping around for an updated solution.