Since purchasing my first PC back in the 80s, my life has been both enhanced and frustrated by technology.
Everyday Uses of Global Positioning System (GPS) Technology
Most of us are aware that using satellite navigation to find our way around unfamiliar locations is a benefit of GPS technology. Whether you’re driving or walking in a city, attempting to find your way to a theater or restaurant, satnavs are a wonderful invention. But for what other applications can GPS be useful?
- Track Your Children
- Locate a Missing Pet
- Monitor Your Elderly or Infirm Relatives
- Stay Safe During Extreme Sports
- Track a Newly Qualified Driver
How Do GPS Trackers Work?
First, let’s find out how the technology works. GPS tracking systems use a method called ‘trilateration’ to determine their location. This is not to be confused with triangulation, which measures angles. The tracker relies on global positioning satellites to pinpoint its exact location.
The GPS device on the ground, whether it’s a cell phone or satnav, picks up the signal from an earth-orbiting satellite. The signal shows up on a monitoring system as a circular area, giving an approximation of its location. It’s way too large an area to be of any use. So the device locks on to a second satellite signal, which forms a second circular area. That means there is now a common area between the two circles where the device is located. But that common area could cover miles and miles. So the tracker seeks another satellite signal, giving a third circular area. Once there are three overlapping circles, the common ground reduces even further.
But the GPS device doesn’t stop there. It continues to pick up other satellite signals until they pinpoint its location within a square meter or so. Given this level of accuracy, in what other ways could we use GPS trackers?
Trackers are monitored either with their own built-in display, a dedicated monitoring device, or a simple smartphone app. Some trackers even utilize all three methods.
1. Track Your Children
Many schools in the US are using a different form of tracking: RFID or Radio Frequency IDentification, to keep track of students on campus. However, RFID has a limited range, so what if your child wanders out of range, or worst case scenario, is abducted?
Anyone who has ever lost sight of their child, and that is probably most of us, know that feeling of panic and sheer helplessness as we frantically search and call out. Of course, we usually find them safe and sound, but for those few minutes, or, in some cases, hours, it feels like the world has stopped spinning. It is the worst thing in the world.
Wearable GPS trackers are the latest technology to protect children. Wristwatches are popular, and my 8-year-old niece has a Kid Smart Watch GPS Tracker which works as a cell phone and a way for my sister to track where she is. These kinds of devices require a sim card to function, which means a contract with a network provider such as T-Mobile, or a pre-paid card. They give parents peace of mind while allowing the child to have a little more autonomy.
It’s a simple enough matter to download the required app to the parent’s smartphone and connect to the child’s device. GPS tags that simply reveal their location, without the extra functions of a wristband/watch can be hidden in backpacks and clothing.
2. Locate a Missing Pet
There are many kinds of Bluetooth and RFID trackers available, but they have a limited range. Therefore a proper GPS tracker is better. It is a simple matter to attach a tag to their collar, install the appropriate app on your smartphone, and you and your pooch (or cat) are always connected.
Similarly, you can do the same with horses. If your horse grazes over a wide area, you need to be able to locate it easily. Again, attach a GPS tag to its headstall, and you’ll always know where your horse or pony is.
More sophisticated devices allow you to set a geofence around the animal. This means that if your horse wanders (or is taken) out of the area you have geofenced (specified), an alert is sent straight to your smartphone.
3. Monitor Your Elderly or Infirm Relatives
One of the more worrying tendencies of people living with Alzheimer's is that they wander off and become confused and lost. Protect them by getting them to wear a GPS-enabled wristband or tag. Make sure they cannot remove it easily. My friend’s elderly father managed to walk seven miles in his pajamas, dressing gown and slippers before the police were alerted and he was found. A tracker would have revealed his location immediately.
4. Stay Safe During Extreme Sports
A dedicated GPS device usually has a much longer battery life than a smartphone. Therefore it makes sense to carry one whenever you are taking part in sports such as hiking, trekking, climbing, kayaking, or anything else that takes you into the wild.
And, not just for security, GPS trackers can monitor your performance and provide mapping and other data to ensure your experience is always a positive and safe one.
Ensure that someone at home or at the base can track you via a smartphone app so that you can be located fast in case of any mishaps.
5. Track a Newly Qualified Driver
If your teen has recently acquired their driver’s license, it makes a lot of sense to install a sophisticated tracker in their vehicle. These days, they don’t only provide location mapping and satnav, they also offer feedback such as route taken, speed, driving style, fuel consumption and even maintenance data. Advanced trackers will also provide information in real time, allowing you to know exactly where your child and car is at any given moment. If you want to check how and where your teen is driving, you should install a GPS tracking system.
Other GPS Tracking Applications
Of course, the benefits of GPS tracking aren’t just limited to children, pets, etcetera. They are also beneficial in many other ways:
- Fleet Tracking: Small business can easily make use of fleet tracking for their vehicles. Make sure your drivers are taking the most efficient routes. And, if you deliver to the general public, you can also provide tracking data for them to know when to expect their delivery. Most courier services do this now, but you can equip your vehicles in the same way at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated commercial fleet system
- Tagging Valuables: Protect valuables by tagging them with GPS tags. For instance, expensive garden equipment and toys. Or anything that is stored away from your property. Tools in workshops are particularly vulnerable to theft.
- Mitigating Vehicle/Equipment Theft: Agricultural and construction vehicle and equipment theft is also a massive problem in the US. Make sure all your property is geotagged and trackable.
Negative Aspects of Tracking Devices
Of course, tracking devices have their downsides as well as advantages. Some people will consider it to be an invasion of privacy, even though they give peace of mind for anyone who is responsible for the care and well-being of another person.
Also, trackers used without the person’s permission are illegal in some states. For example, using one to spy on your spouse is not a great idea. Marriages should be built on trust, and if you can’t trust each other, then you have no marriage. I’ve expanded on this in my articles: ‘Spying on Your Partner: Good or Bad?’ And ‘My Husband is Spying on Me.’
GPS Is Not a Fail-Safe
Tracking devices can give you a false sense of security. They are not a fail-safe piece of magic. Always back them up with the precautions you would normally put in place. Trackers only add an extra layer of protection. They are NOT babysitters and should never be thought of as a substitute for parental attention, nor for giving your children the skills and knowledge to deal with any situation they could find themselves in.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Bev G
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 17, 2018:
Many thanks, Glen. Enjoy your wood walking - there's nothing better :) I've done my 40 minute wood walking with the dogs this morning. Bluebells are stunning this time of year.
Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on May 17, 2018:
Great article Bev. You explained how GPS works very well, and your description of the many uses for it is very informative.
I have an app on my iPhone that uses GPS to track me when I’m hiking. I feel more comfortable kicking in unknown territory now because it shows me exactly where I am in the woods. It also shows how fast I’m walking and how many miles I’ve walked.