13 Applications

The number of applications of GPS have been astonishing. It would take several paragraphs just to list them. Accurate positioning and timing, other than for military navigation, include synchronization of power line nodes for fault detection, communications, VLBI, navigation in deep space, tests of fundamental physics, measurements on pulsars, tests of gravity theories, vehicle tracking, search and rescue, surveying, mapping, and navigation of commercial aircraft, to name a few. These are too numerous to go into in much detail here, but some applications are worth mentioning. Civilian applications have overtaken military applications to the extent that SA was turned off in May of 2000.

The Nobel-prizewinning work of Joseph Taylor and his collaborators [1623] on the measurement of the rate of increase of the binary pulsar period depended on GPS receivers at the Arecibo observatory, for transferring UTC from the U.S. Naval Observatory and NIST to the local clock. Time standards around the world are compared using GPS in common-view; with this technique SA would cancel out, as well as do many sources of systematic errors such as ionospheric and tropospheric delays. Precise position information can assist in careful husbandry of natural resources, and animal and vehicle fleet tracking can result in improved efficiency. Precision agriculture makes use of GPS receivers in real-time application of pesticides or fertilizers, minimizing waste. Sunken vessels or underwater ruins with historically significant artifacts can be located using the GPS and archeologists can return again and again with precision to the same location. Monster ore trucks or earth-moving machines can be fitted with receivers and controlled remotely with minimal risk of collision or interference with other equipment. Disposable GPS receivers dropped through tropical storms transmit higher resolution measurements of temperature, humidity, pressure, and wind speed than can be obtained by any other method; these have led to improved understanding of how tropical storms intensify. Slight movements of bridges or buildings, in response to various loads, can be monitored in real time. Relative movements of remote parts of earth’s crust can be accurately measured in a short time, contributing to better understanding of tectonic processes within the earth and, possibly, to future predictions of earthquakes. With the press of a button, a lost hiker can send a distress signal that includes the hikers’ location.

These and many other creative applications of precise positioning and timing are leading to a rapid economic expansion of GPS products and services. Manufacturers produce hundreds of different GPS products for commercial, private, and military use and the number and variety of products is increasing. The number of receivers manufactured each year is in excess of two million, and different applications are continually being invented. Marketing studies predict sales of GPS equipment and services exceeding $30 billion per year; revenue for the European Galileo system is projected to be 10 billion Euros per year.


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