Celebrating 35 years of vital omnipresence of GPS

Considered a vital system in many of its digital tools, AZLOGICA celebrates the 35 years of GPS, since it became publicly accessible. Being part of numerous facets of modern life, GPS has revolutionized our way of locating ourselves and interacting with the world, and its future remains promising. Integrated into cutting-edge technologies such as IoT and AI, it promises greater precision, efficiency, and sustainability

The fact that 70% of AZLOGICA®‘s client portfolio uses solutions for mobile assets speaks to the importance of GPS as a substantial element in various tools present in automotive to agricultural machinery, civil construction, both terrestrial and aerial, and aquatic, mostly manned. In each of these applications, this translates into growing efficiency, risk reduction, fuel consumption reduction, operating costs, as well as increased efficiency in distribution and maintenance prediction.

AZLOGICA®, a multinational with a presence in ten countries in Europe and America, has several diverse success stories with various multinational and local companies where its digital tools have helped mitigate critical situations. The presence of GPS alongside the good performance of other components, primarily IoT, for example, has often allowed for high efficiency in the case of static or stationary assets at high risk of theft in various Latin American countries. The solution: when theft occurs, a sensor immediately activates tracking, generates positioning, and then an activity that will allow for the recovery of the stolen asset.

Although the use of GPS seems nowadays an elementary and everyday complement, it makes us forget that in the past, finding the way from one end of a country to another often required at least a very large map, or several small ones, like the zoned guide that was once used in the complex zonal distribution of Paris. But that history changed in February 1989 when the government of U.S. President Ronald Reagan decided that GPS – previously used only in the military and defense fields – should be available for civilian users.

Thus began the rise of this navigation and localization device. Initially used almost exclusively in cars, it is now part of many diverse activities that make it an unnoticed part of the landscape of our daily lives.

When this satellite radio navigation system, simply known as GPS, acronym for Global Positioning System, turned 25 in 2014, its inventor, Brad Parkinson, a brilliant retired colonel of the United States Air Force and emeritus professor at Stanford University, said in an interview with the BBC in London that, despite having invented the system, he still preferred to orient himself using “real maps.” In his own way, it was already too late for “regrets”: more than ever, space technology had become a vital element of human beings’ daily lives.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) stands as a technological feat that silently but radically transformed our way of locating and navigating in the contemporary world. With a constellation of 24 satellites orbiting at 20,000 kilometers altitude and distributed in six different orbital paths, forming a network that covers the entire world. And with each satellite continuously emitting signals that are captured by GPS receivers in various devices, such as smartphones, cars, and navigation systems, determining their position with impressive precision.

The functioning of this system is based on the emission of signals by each satellite, which are captured and analyzed by receivers in our devices. Through calculations based on the speed of light and triangulation, GPS can determine the exact position of the user, providing crucial data such as altitude, speed, and direction.

Location and Precision for a Better World

Amidst a permanent dilemma about the intrusion it can sometimes cause in individuals’ privacy, the inextricable integration of this system with our environment, amidst that satellite conjunction, is undeniable. And although it seems omnipresent today, it must be said that its roots trace back to the early days of the space race during the Cold War. It was inspired by the launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 when American scientists envisioned the possibility of using satellite transmissions for navigation. The concept evolved rapidly, leading to the development of GPS under the Navstar program, which was used between 1973 and 1985.

Highlighting its versatility and importance in modern society, it is worth mentioning how GPS became an integral part of numerous applications in various industries. The most common is associated with air, maritime, or land navigation, for civilian and military purposes. The system is vital in navigation, approach, and landing procedures for aircraft, precise real-time positioning for maritime vessels, and vehicle tracking in fleet management and regarding variables such as location, speed, and routes.

Other relevant uses of GPS include transportation management, allowing the analysis of traffic patterns, optimizing public transportation routes, and in the fields of cartography and topography for urban planning, territorial development, and infrastructure projects. In precision agriculture, it allows mapping fields, controlling the application of seeds, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and irrigation water, reducing environmental impact.

Likewise, its valuable use in precise location in search and rescue operations cannot be dismissed, offering emergency responses to locate and assist people in care situations such as natural disasters or medical emergencies. In personal security, it allows individuals to share their real-time location, such as for outdoor recreational activities with devices that record various variables in practices such as athletics, walking, cycling, camping, and others.

In tracking the movements and behavior of wildlife species for research, conservation, and management purposes, as well as domestic animals (pets). It is worth mentioning that GPS radio occultation technology (GPS-RO) is used to collect atmospheric data and thus forecast weather or certain climatic events. In that sense, GPS helps monitor environmental changes, such as land subsidence, glacier movements, and sea level rise, providing valuable data for climate change research and mitigation efforts. It is important to note that GPS technology supports scientific research in fields such as geology, ecology, meteorology, and archaeology, providing valuable spatial data for studying Earth processes and natural phenomena.

Finally, there is the whole realm of communications technology, such as the transmission of high-precision time signals or time synchronization for critical systems, including telecommunications, financial transactions, and electrical grid operations. Many of them rely on the integration of GPS into phones and smart devices that enable location-based services, such as maps, navigation, ride-sharing, and advertising. And the synchronization signals of this system used in telecommunications networks to synchronize data transmission, optimize network performance, and ensure accurate billing and fraud prevention.

Enhanced Positioning in Dynamic Scenarios

In recent years, advances and innovations in the GPS system, thanks to technological progress and the growing demand for location-based services, have been remarkable. One of them lies in precision, which has progressively improved partly due to the deployment of new satellites, advanced algorithms, or the incorporation of other systems such as WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) or EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service). Particularly benefiting from this advantage are the development of autonomous vehicles, precision agriculture, and topography.

Added to this are RTK, Real-time Kinematic Positioning, an application used in topography that corrects common errors in Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), as well as PPP, Precise Point Positioning. These technologies allow real-time positioning at centimeter-level accuracy in fields that require high precision or challenging environments, including construction, geodesy (the science that studies the shape and dimensions of the Earth), and maritime navigation.

For Edgar Salas, CEO of AZLOGICA®, “future prospects in this field include the development of hybrid positioning solutions that combine these RTK and PPP techniques to improve performance and reliability, as well as the fusion of multiple sensors that generate enhanced positioning in dynamic scenarios. It’s not easy to provide exact data, but in a short time, we will move from meter-level precision to centimeters, thanks to the evolution of this entire set of elements.”

Similarly, GPS has become the essential support for other GNSS such as GLONASS in Russia, Galileo in Europe, BeiDou in China, and NavIC in India. All these systems have improved reliability, availability, positioning service accuracy, and global coverage. This integration allows devices to access signals from multiple constellations simultaneously, generating positioning robustness, particularly in urban spaces and areas with obstructed sky views, especially due to weather factors, or where signals are unavailable.

The importance of GPS in the development of the Indoor Positioning System (IPS) has also been evident, understood as a network of devices that allow locating objects or people inside a building wirelessly, where GPS signals are not available or weak. Techniques such as Wi-Fi positioning, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons, and sensor fusion algorithms have been used for this purpose. These tools facilitate precise indoor localization and are commonly used for asset tracking in warehouses, navigation in shopping malls, and augmented reality experiences.

GPS evolves integrated with IoT and AI

It is worth noting that GPS has become a fundamental component in the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, facilitating asset tracking, fleet management, and location-based services through smart devices. Improvements in miniaturization and energy efficiency have allowed GPS integration into wearable devices, drones, and various IoT sensors, expanding the range of location-based applications.

As the dependence on GPS continues to grow, efforts to improve its security and resilience against interference, spoofing, or cyberattacks have intensified, as well as to preserve privacy and data security. The development of advanced encryption techniques, with signal authentication and receiver technologies that enhance resistance (anti-jamming antennas) and signal integrity against negative interference, with signal processing algorithms, are crucial to safeguard GPS-dependent systems and their critical infrastructure. Those who leverage this data corporately must adhere to the highest information security standards, such as ISO 27001, in an action that is no longer desirable but mandatory.

At 35 years old, and looking to the future, satellite navigation systems and GPS are entering all dynamics offered by its integration with 5G technology networks, Blockchain, quantum computing, and obviously, IoT and the rapid evolution of Artificial Intelligence. This integration will pave the way for faster and more reliable data transmission on land, with IoT devices leveraging GPS for location-aware applications, especially in mobile equipment and machinery.

AI will continue to improve GPS accuracy with advanced algorithms that process signals and perform predictive analysis, optimizing route planning and navigation, as well as variables derived from position such as speed and acceleration. These innovations in services and applications will be supported by ultra-low latency location and high reliability, essential in precise localization and navigation for safe and efficient transportation in autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, and immersive gaming. An additional objective is the reduction of accidents, increased efficiency, reduced mortality rates, and less pollution.

Efficiency, Sustainability, Interconnection

The precision, integrity, and availability of GPS will further improve with the implementation and continuous advancements of the Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS), such as the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) and the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) next-generation, which will support critical applications for safety in air, maritime, and railway systems.

Interoperability and compatibility among different Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) will further ensure that navigation experiences of all kinds remain seamless worldwide. This will also foster international collaboration in space exploration and satellite navigation.

Additionally, GPS will continue to be a substantial contribution to environmental monitoring, disaster management, and efforts to mitigate climate change, allowing for precise measurement of sea level rise, land subsidence, and glacier movements. Overall, the future of satellite navigation systems and GPS is promising. There is no doubt that the system remains vital in our society and appears ready for its continuous advancements, poised to drive innovation in various industries and domains, leading to more efficient, sustainable, and interconnected systems.

For Edgar Salas, the use and implementation of GPS in the various applications created and used by AZLOGICA® continue to evolve. “The reduction in size and increase in efficiency in the performance of the positioning devices,” he says, “opens up opportunities for more specific use cases. Localization of smaller assets in more complex areas, with greater precision and speed. If we use these tools to improve the quality of life and decisively measure their contribution to sustainable development, we will have in GPS and its counterparts a significant and immediate contribution to humanity’s benefit.”

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