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How the US military perfected GPS technology for civilians

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Automotive navigation system in a taxicab. (Public domain)

The United States government owns the Global Positioning System (GPS), developed through the Defense Department in 1978, where it was initially limited to military use. GPS is a satellite-founded radio navigation network among the global navigation satellite systems that give time data and geolocation to a GPS receiver wherever on or near the Earth where there is an unhindered line of view to four or additional GPS satellites. 

Ideally, obstacles such as buildings and mountains can obstruct the moderately weak GPS signals. The GPS offers military positioning, navigation and timing services. In 2000, President Bill Clinton announced a commitment to provide civilians access to un-degraded GPS signals on the same level as those incorporated by the military. Consequently, in 2007, under the reign of President Bush, the commitment was made permanent.

How the U.S. military perfected GPS for civilians

Throughout the past two decades, GPS technology has resulted in a spread of commercial GPS applications across businesses and sectors, comprising construction, agriculture, aerospace, transportation and daily life, particularly with the creation of portable devices. 

Air Force Space Command Vice Commander Lt. Gen. DT Thompson delivers presents Dr. Gladys West with an award as she is inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame during a ceremony in her honor at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Dec. 6, 2018. West was among the so-called “Hidden Figures” part of the team who did computing for the U.S. military in the era before electronic systems. The Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame is one of Air Force’s Space Commands Highest Honors.(Photo by Adrian Cadiz)

Apart from creating new efficiencies and decreasing operating expenses, the adoption of GPS technology by civilians has enhanced safety, environmental quality, and emergency response times and has brought many other less-readily measurable advantages. The military has perfected GPS technology in different ways that civilians can use in their everyday life. 

The military idealized the GPS with automated vehicles by applying routes and locations for trucks and vehicles to operate without a human driver. Emergency services have been able to rise a notch higher in effectiveness since the application of GPS for timing and location abilities has assisted in salvaging the situation in emergency and disaster relief situations. GPS has enabled radio concealment for atmospheric and weather science applications and meteorological purposes. 

Besides that, the military has enhanced GPS technology for civilians through geofencing, where person tracking systems, car tracking systems and pet tracking systems incorporate GPS to find devices attached to or carried by an individual, pet or car. 

Geofencing can continuously track and transmit notifications if the target takes off from a selected or “fenced-in” location. Surveyors incorporate GPS technology since they work with absolute locations to create maps and determine property boundaries. 

Geotagging is additionally a great way the U.S. military has perfected GPS technology for civilians where it applies location coordinates to digital objects like photographs and other documents. GPS technology is also incorporated for recreation, where fans of location-based online mobile games such as Pokémon can connect and enjoy the game.   

Tremendous impact of GPS technology 

Magellan Blazer12 GPS Receiver.

For a long time in human history, the ability to determine one’s precise location globally at any given time only existed in the fantasy realm. The uses and advantages of such a capability, right from lessening travel and navigation headaches to uncovering elephant poaching rings, were only restricted to mere imagination. 

Against all odds, GPS has grown to be a key piece of life for many people and organizations worldwide. The moment GPS technology was made available for civilian use, the aviation industry was the sole-named industry that would obtain access to the signal; however, once the system was launched, the impacts across multiple industries and sectors were huge; it would be close to impossible to go back to a more controlled system. 

Unfortunately, in the same way GPS technology has brought significant advancement and advantages globally, it has also negatively impacted the lives of civilians. Location data enabled by governments can be put to possibly troubling ends that also enhance the diversity of privacy-intruding technologies. For instance, users’ locations are shared with unnamed third parties or employers who constantly track their employees’ every move in the factories.