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An Opinion By Robert McMillan: August 13, 2009

Origins of the GPS

After some frustrating trips by car, I finally purchased a portable Global Positioning System, (GPS) back in 2004. My frustrations were based on the difficulty in traveling to visit relatives even with the use of a traditional paper map. Little did I know how great the GPS can be if you are on the road.

Because of a recent trip to Sodus Point, New York — a small community on the shore of Lake Ontario – I became even more attached to the GPS and decided to do some research on how such a fascinating device was invented.

There is little debate over the effectiveness of GPS in significantly improving the accuracy of weapons. I can remember, on my first trip to Panama as a Canal Board member, seeing a site near our housing where a GPS-guided bomb had taken out a Noriega facility without touching palm trees closely circling the structure.

Truckers regularly depend on GPS as do many in automobiles. But, guess what? There is a controversy as to who really originated the GPS. Slowly, the credit is being given to Roger Easton who really did invent the system. There is a lot clear evidence that Brad Parkinson did much to develop the system invented by Easton. So much for who was the inventor.

Now, how does it work and what can we expect for the future? Both Easton and Parkinson worked for the military – Easton for the Navy and Parkinson for the Air Force. All of the GPS really developed out of satellites. It takes a minimum of three for any functioning of GPS, but the system works best if there are seven or more. All orbit the earth with the first satellite being launched over 40 years ago. In 1993, GPS was released by the government for civilian applications, and that is the earliest they could be used in cars.

Today, the advanced GPS can take measurements that are accurate to one fourth of an inch! Beyond the expanding military uses, the GPS is finding many applications in all of our lives. From developing the tunnel under the English Channel to mine safety, the GPS helps in construction and protecting lives. The GPS is also used to monitor migrating animal herds and even single endangered species can be tracked by the GPS. Archaeologists have actually found them useful in finding ancient ruins.

It can be said that the GPS will be like stars in the sky, but they can never be blocked by rain clouds. They will certainly continue to guide us well into the future.