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Things You Should Know About GPS Systems

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Things You Should Know About GPS Systems

John Richards
4 April 2009


GPS (Global Positioning Systems) have really improved since they were introduced. It's difficult for many to see today's product and realize exactly how far these devices have come since they were developed for the U. S. Armed Forces. The thing to keep in mind and remember is that they still have a long way to go. These devices are not at all infallible and still have some problem areas that prohibit us from dumping compass and maps all together.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are almost invariably problems of some sort with all electronic gadgets. And it's doubly true when it comes to equipment that is run by software. If you're not sure about this, check out a computer that is run by Windows? We often find ourselves stymied by the limitations of the software we are using.

And the same is true when it comes to software driven GPS systems and GPS devices. This fact alone makes them a little unreliable. For those times when reliability isn't at its best keep in mind that for the most part the system works well. It's just difficult when the times you need it to work well are the times when it is malfunctioning. The good news is that the units themselves are often quite resilient and even able to withstand the manhandling a typical rough and tumble two year old can dish out.

Another thing to keep in mind with your GPS is that its reliability can suffer whenever it doesn't have a clear view of the sky. For that reason there may be times when you aren't able to get a clear signal. Tunnels below rivers and mountains are a good example of one of those times. It's not just about one signal, the device must be able to find three satellites orbiting way above the earth at the very least in order to be 'seen'. And usually a fourth satellite is needed for verification purposes. This means that in some situations where you might have a clear view of the sky, you may not be in a position where all four satellites have a clear view of you and more importantly your device.

It is also important to keep in mind that GPS technology isn't meant to replace the use of maps or of common sense when driving. You can only store so much information on a GPS device and roads are constantly being built, changes, constructed, improved, and moved. For that reason alone it is nearly impossible to guarantee that any device will contain 100% accurate information at all times. You should however, choose a device or auto navigation systems that allows frequent and simple upgrades to the maps provided. Updating regularly and immediately prior to any large trips will go a long way towards saving some serious hair pulling while you travel.

GPS and auto navigation systems are still miles better than trying to read old maps, which might be out of date, for most of us. Despite that, when you go into a shope to buy one, it is always a good idea to have all the facts to hand rather than thinking you've discovered the next best thing to sliced bread that it doesn't do exactly waht you thought it would. This technology is wonderful and affords many benefits to those who are willing and able to make use of it. It will never replace common sense or map reading skills however and it should only be used to support your own abilities.


Don't let rising costs put you off the road. Find hundreds of money-saving auto tips for buying and running your car at http://www.autotips.john-richards.com

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