GPS devices have now become a standard feature of modern life.  Global Positioning Systems, to give them their full name, are present in almost all new technology, whether that’s smartphones, new cars or even MP3 players. Its most common use of course is for navigating whilst driving, followed by navigating through streets on foot and tracking people, goods or vehicles. There’s even a pastime which relies on the technology called geocaching, whereby people leave gifts and notes in designated places, and other people use GPS to find them. But despite this omnipotence, the majority of the technology’s users have little idea of how it works.

Satellites that weigh up to 2 tonnes and orbit the earth twice a day underpin GPS technology, which works by triangulating location co-ordinates using these satellites. At this moment there are 24 operational satellites orbiting the earth, with 3 more that will become active should any of the other 24 shutdown. A device which utilises GPS will find a number of these satellites before calculating the distance to each using transition time to pinpoint the location of the device, a process which is known as trilateration, and a GPS tracker can track not only location at that time, but also velocity and past locations.

As well as this, there are two types of GPS tracking, active and passive. Passive tracking refers to a device which stores data regarding location, which can later be uploaded to a computer and is often used, by cyclists or runners, in order to work out the distances involved in their respective training regimes. Active tracking sends location info instantaneously to a central system or server, and is more useful for tracking vehicles and people in real-time, i.e. in a commercial setting.

One of the reasons mobile phones are now more and more likely to be equipped with GPS technology is because all of them emit a satellite signal when they are turned on, even when not being used to make a call. Even without GPS, mobile phone users can be tracked by determining which tower is processing that particular signal, so taking this to the next logical step with GPS is now common. Crimes, missing persons and stolen property mysteries have all been solved thanks to GPS and its embedded data in things like photos and data, even when people’s locations have moved.



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