ATC Blog

The Science Behind Car GPS Systems

2013 Ford Edge NavIf you own a car with GPS, you may have never really thought past putting in a destination and pressing go. That’s the brilliant part about just how convenient GPS navigation is. But our automotive-inquisitive staff and students are interested in finding out more, such as how can GPS pinpoint where your car is, access all the possible routes, and serve up the one with the least traffic?

Find out answers to this and more in the following turn-by-turn look at the history and advancement of GPS.

What Is GPS and How Does It Work in Cars?

GPS, as you might know, stands for Global Positioning System. The United States has a complex system of satellites that orbit the earth in space—31 and counting.

When you call up your vehicle’s GPS system, it attempts to connect to these satellites via a special antenna or receiver. To verify or triangulate your vehicle’s location, your GPS system needs to receive a signal back from 3 orbiting satellites.

In combination with the antenna and receiver, the system relies on sensors in your car to fill in information about your exact position and where you’re hoping to travel, right down to the direction that your car’s facing in its starting location.

From there, your GPS’ computer, which contains detailed map information, cross-checks this information against what the satellites provide to formulate possible routes. Between the navigation system computer and up-to-the-minute information received from pinging other sources on the ground, routes are analyzed and the one with the shortest travel time is sent into the priority position.

Origins of GPS

The foundation of GPS theory goes back over 60 years. Here’s a quick timeline:

1957: The idea that a satellite’s positioning could determine exact positions on the ground occurred in the 1950s and ‘60s following the buzz of the launch of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik.

1978: The first official GPS system was created and launched for US military use in the late 1970s. At that time, there were 11 satellites sent into space.

1983: GPS became available for civilian use.

1993: The US sends the final satellite into space that would complete the modern GPS network. It consists of 24 satellites.

1999: GPS didn’t appear in cars until the mid to late 1990s, whenthe first mobile phone with GPS capability was released in Europe.

GPS Is One Auto Tech Inspiration of Many

Ways cars have changed in the past decade

Today, GPS’ ability to pinpoint an exact, timestamped location, speed, and direction is used by countless industries from everyday drivers to seismologists studying vibrations in the earth’s surface. The compelling part is, as GPS’ satellite network continues to grow and develop, so too will its level of detail and accuracy.

Want to learn more about today’s wow-worthy automotive technology that’s made its way into cars? Find out more about how Apple is breaking out into the automotive industry with our look at The Apple iCar: Inside Apple’s Entry into the Auto IndustryCheck it out here.

 

For program disclosure information, please go to www.autotraining.edu/consumer-information.

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