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Navigating the GPS market

Terry Lindsay helps us avoid the hazards when navigating the GPS Market.

GPSWHAT IS GPS?

GPS is an acronym for Global Positioning System. Basically, GPS is a space-based navigation system that provides location and time information anywhere on the earth. GPS was developed 30 years ago by the US Department of Defence. It became fully operational in 1994 and today it provides critical capabilities to military, civil and commercial users and is freely accessible to anyone with a GPS receiver.

The 24 satellites that make up the GPS space segment are orbiting the earth about 12,000 miles above us and are constantly moving at speeds of roughly 7000 miles per hour. They are powered by solar energy and have backup batteries to keep them running in the event of a solar eclipse, when there’s no solar power. Small rocket boosters on each satellite keep them flying in the correct path. Advances in technology and new demands on the existing system have led to efforts to modernise the GPS system and implement the next generation of GPS III satellites and Next Generation Operational Control.

HOW IT WORKS

GPS satellites circle the earth twice a day in a very precise orbit and transmit signal information to earth. GPS receivers take this information and use triangulation to calculate the user’s exact location. Essentially, the GPS receiver compares the time a signal was transmitted by a satellite with the time it was received. The time difference tells the GPS receiver how far away the satellite is. Now, with distance measurements from a few more satellites, the receiver can determine the user’s position and display it on the unit’s electronic map.

A GPS receiver must be locked on to the signal of at least three satellites to calculate a 2D position (latitude and longitude) and track movement. With four or more satellites in view, the receiver can determine the user’s 3D position(latitude, longitude and altitude). Once the user’s position has been determined, the GPS unit can calculate other information, such as speed, bearing, track, trip distance, distance to destination, sunrise and sunset time and more.

HOW ACCURATE IS GPS?

Today’s GPS receivers are extremely accurate, thanks to their parallel multi-channel design. Garmin’s 12 parallel channel receivers are quick to lock onto satellites when first turned on and they maintain strong locks, even in dense foliage or urban settings with tall buildings. Certain atmospheric factors and other sources of error can affect the accuracy of GPS receivers. Garmin® GPS receivers are accurate to within 15 meters on average.

TYPES OF GPS SYSTEMS

When you start to explore the many types of GPS systems and their features, you will be amazed. Their multitude of applications will prove to be invaluable once you start using them.

Street navigation systems give turn-by-turn directions and include information such as mileage, speed and estimated time of arrival. Some will even tell you when there is traffic ahead, where there are red-light cameras and even speed cameras.While modern vehicles include GPS as optional extras, others are available as aftermarket purchases which can be attached to the dashboard or windscreen and removed for hand-held use. Most come preloaded with Australian maps and offer international maps as an upgrade. The maps provide information such as airports, police departments, hospitals, places of interest, shopping centres and petrol stations. You can even program it to advise you where to find your favourite coffee shop. Most of these GPS systems can even interface with your mobile phone as a hands-free device!

Sports GPS systems and watches are a must-have accessory for sporting enthusiasts. Sailors no longer have to rely on using celestial navigation. GPS systems can guide you safely through the water, with information including channels and nautical hazards. GPS watches are also ideal for orienteering buffs, cyclists and more, as they help with the lay of the land and most direct route. GPS watches are like mini-computers strapped to your wrist with multitudes of features specific to your needs.The small screen is a downs side, and there is the need to frequently change modes to accomplish a task.

Many of us are already reliant on our iPad or tablet. The added feature of GPS makes them even more appealing. Having it with you at all times means you’ll never be late for an appointment due to losing your way.

Many of today’s smartphones offer a GPS feature for an additional service charge. And, there are free Apps available too. Many people use the GPS to find a nearby business, and the inbuilt tracking device can be extremely useful when you lose your phone. There have been many stories where people have tracked their phones to discover they are travelling the nearby area on the back of the taxi.

GPS APPS FOR IPHONE/IPAD & ANDROID DEVICES

Google Maps provides high-resolution aerial or satellite images for most urban areas all over the world.

AmAze GPS is a free turn-by-turn voice GPS app for the iPhone. You can view in 2D or 3D, and it offers many of the features of expensive GPS apps!

Automilez is a perfect app for people who need to track mileage for reimbursement.

Free GPS is a no-frills GPS system that works quite nicely. It is totally simple.

GPS Logbooks. I don’t actually fly a plane, but this app is pretty handy if you do. You can share your flight log book with the world using this handy dandy app.

Co Pilot Live – a comprehensive app that covers most of the world and includes a few features not found in most other products from better-known companies like TomTom, GarminSygic GPS NavigationSygic GPS Navigation is an offline navigation app. This means that all the important stuff like maps, millions of points of interest and software for route calculation, are all stored on the phone.

SHOULD I USE A GPS DEVICE OR JUST USE MY SMARTPHONE WITH A GPS APP?

Some things to consider:

A GPS device can be mounted to the dash or windscreen providing optimal viewing for turn by-turn in-car directions, whereas the phone or iPad rests on the passenger seat or some other flat area and may be damaged whilst driving. Smartphone/Tablet map and points-of-interest databases are either downloaded initially with purchase of the app or are downloaded on the fly. When you download maps on the fly, you’ll always have the latest version. The downside is that you may be without maps in remote areas out of mobile phone tower range. If you do a lot of rural driving out of 3G range, stay with on-board maps in GPS devices.

Smartphone turn-by-turn apps generally use the same high-quality maps and databases provided by the mapping giants TomTom & Garmin. Google has gone its own way with Google Maps Navigation. With a GPS app the maps will always be current where with a GPS device the maps will need to be updated at least every year (at a cost).

Price:

Good-quality GPS devices are available for $120 to $350 and up, depending on the screen size and features. You will pay extra for annual map updates (about $70 – $90). Although some devices come with free map updates for a limited period.Smartphone/Tablet turn-by-turn navigation apps range in price from free to $99. These navigation apps usually do not carry map update fees.

Terry Lindsay
TECHNOLOGY TRAINING GROUPTerry Lindsay is the owner of Technology Training Group which provides one-on-one in-home tuition and practical guides for people wanting to overcome the technical divide. Find out more at www.technology training.net.au or call 1300 136 679.