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What Does GPS Stand For?

Posted by Auto.com Staff | Jan 2, 2019

GPS stands for global positioning system and refers to a network of satellites orbiting earth. These satellites relay real-time location data to correlating GPS receivers. While it was originally designed for military purposes, GPS has become increasingly popular in civilian applications.

The GPS satellite system as we know it was started in 1973 and is centered around radio signals and how they bounce off the Earth's surface. In 1983, it was decided that as soon as the United States' GPS system was established and reliable, it would be made available for civilian use. Today, it can be found in everything from fitness trackers to farm equipment. GPS technology allows real-time location data to be received by specific devices without telephone or internet service. But, because GPS signals require a relatively clean line of sight between the satellite the receiver, there can be issues maintaining a clear signal in areas with rugged terrain. 

Many people will find navigation to be the most familiar form of GPS technology used in the automotive industry. Maps were once relegated to printed foldouts and, later, downloadable aftermarket systems. Technology and the improvements in global positioning system satellite data has changed that. With the advent of map and navigation applications on mobile devices, it can be possible to take maps pretty much anywhere you go, even if your phone doesn't have a signal. Paired with a mobile data plan though, these apps can give you real-time GPS location, estimate your arrival time and alert you to any potential travel delays. 

GPS can also be found in vehicle location systems and other devices. Thanks to improvements that allow GPS to locate objects within mere inches of their real-time location, GPS has also been put to work in the development and design of autonomous cars. The idea behind an automated car is that there is no driver, but cameras alone are not enough to help a driverless car get from point A to point B. Specialized receivers help the GPS position the vehicle and set a course, while the localized safety systems and cameras stay alert for more immediate dangers.

In many ways, GPS has changed the way we drive - or don't drive - cars today. As the technology improves, so can our dependency on it. However, there are examples out there of people who relied too heavily on GPS and ended up lost as a result. Whenever heading out, especially to a remote and unknown location, make sure to familiarize yourself with the area. It never hurts to be prepared, either with GPS or an old-fashioned paper map.