If you've been confounded by all the technical jargon andhype surrounding GPS, confusing what's turning out to be avery useful tool, allow me to shed a little light on yourroadmap to deciding whether or not this technology is foryou! Originally designed with military applications in mind,the technology was made available to mere mortals in hte1980's for the many and varied uses we've found so far forthese special tools. Not only handy for auto navigation, GPSunits have made their way into maritime navigation,backcountry uses, and much, much more!
How does GPS work? GPS (which stands for Global PositioningSystem) allows you to pinpoint your position anywhere on theplanet to within an average of 15 meters, with some unitsdoing much better than that. Twenty-four GPS satellites,paid for and placed in orbit by the Dept. of Defensecourtesy of your tax dollars, send signals back to terrafirma 24/7. These signals are retrieved by your handy dandyGPS receiver which uses three sources (satellites) totriangulate this information and compute your actualposition. If there are four data sources, even altitude canbe determined. Since there are normally eight satellites inline of sight from anywhere on earth, the opportunity foraccurate positioning exists. Other things that can bedetermined besides latitude, longitude, and altitude wouldinclude things like speed, sunrises and sunsets, bearing,distance and more. While they will work in any weather, somehindrances would be electronic interference, buildings, andcertain terrain. A good rule of thumb is that the units willgenerally not perform underwater, indoors, or underground.There are currently two Global Navigation Satellite Systemsin use. Besides GPS, there is the Russian Global NavigationSatellite System (GLONASS) Protocols are constantly beingrefined to enhance the abilities of these systems. A brightlight on the horizon is Galileo, scheduled to go online in2008, which promises even greater accuracy andfunctionality.
So how do I know which GPS unit is for me? Quite a fewchoices now exist for consumers in the GPS marketplace.Whether you need a handheld unit for backpacking or boating,or one for your automobile (they are becoming an attractiveoption!) or for one of a myriad of uses, there are severalreputable manufacturers of quality GPS units out there tohelp you find your way through the maze of choices. Nameslike Magellan, Garmin, Rino, Etrex and Meridian lead themarket, and are readily available. Take your time, check outthe various features each has to offer, and get yourselfoutfitted with one of the more useful and efficientnavigational tools out there today!
Keith Thompson is the webmaster at Best GPS Review where many resourcesand information on GPS can be found.