Gadgets & Gear

How GPS came to change the way we drive

How we take GPS for granted.

Besides mobile phones, It’s hard to think of a recent piece f technology that has been so thoroughly embraced by the pubic. But the way it came about and was handed down to pubic use pretty interesting.

The glow of a GPS screen can be seen on just about every dashboard you ass on the road these days.

gpsNot that long ago, GPS was the exclusive domain of top secret government and military operatives. They have now become so commonplace that they are changing the way America drives.

They also now have given us a new high-tech acronym to learn: PND, or personal navigation device.

Garmin, Magellan and Tom-Tom are some of the well-known brands of GPS receivers that consumers are using. All the carmakers offer optional factory-installed systems that also connect to the constellation of 24 satellites orbiting some 12,000 miles above Earth.

Those satellites beam microwave signals back to Earth. When a GPS receiver processes them, the system calculates how long it took the signal to get there. By matching that signal with other signals from other satellites, it’s possible to pinpoint a location down to 10 to 12 feet.

The United States developed GPS in the early 1970s and kept it as a closely guarded military secret. But when a Korean Airline civilian flight was shot down by Soviet fighters in 1983 after it had become lost over Soviet territory, GPS was declassified by President Ronald Reagan.

For much of that time, it was prohibitively expensive, mostly used by deep-pocketed hunters, hikers and boaters.

But as personal technology boomed in the 1990s, GPS receivers rapidly dropped from more than $1,000 to hundreds. Today, GPS is everywhere, and prices continue to drop as new models enter the marketplace, offering new services.

Sprint, Verizon and AT&T are now offering GPS systems on mobile phones. I’ve got a GPS receiver from Garmin that mounts on my bicycle and tells me my speed, shows me where I am on a map and directs me to anyplace I tell it to. My new drone, a quardricopter that flies by remote control and has a GpPro camera attached, also uses GPS.

So there you go. That’s the brief story of GPS, anther technology that has changed our lives.



Mike is a veteran journalist whose video "PC Mike" reports have been distributed weekly to all 215 NBC-TV stations since 1994, making him one of the most experienced tech reporters in the country. His tech stories and videos have appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, the Today Show, The New York Times, USA Today and in numerous national newspapers and magazines. In addition to the PC Mike tech blog, he also publishes the RV Travel Blog in which he travels North America in an RV reporting about interesting people and places.