GPS technology trends

By Maureen Aylward

GPS technology is embedded into phones and into devices and the applications are growing and shifting everyday. We asked our Zintro experts about the emerging trends and markets that GPS technology is moving into and the challenges and opportunities for growth in this sector

Will Cadell, a GIS consultant, says that GPS technology has been a progressive game changer throughout the last few decades. It has moved from the military into civilian engineering into recreational pursuits and into the hands of every smartphone user on the planet. “GPS in itself is simply a coordinate discerning the location of a device. This point carries a timestamp and accuracy,” Cadell says. “What we do with these data is what makes GPS powerful. Through native and web applications, users can interact with their location and discover things around them. Think of this as providing a localized, intrinsic knowledge.”

Beyond the user-centric cases, the advent of the GPS enabled smartphone has turned every user into a sensor. “The ability to crowd source data and opinion is a feature of the mobile web that is only being discovered and truly leveraged now,” says Cadell. “Some apps are building inventories of data that will likely become useful and important in the future. One such example is Life360, a service to keep families in touch with each other which is based off GPS and wireless location technology.”

GPS technology is also getting smaller. This means it can be attached to more and more things. “As GPS gets smaller and cheaper, we will see things being tracked across the globe. Already, most freight is tracked in some manner (RFID or GPS), but what about vehicles, pets, parcels, bicycles, groceries? Tracking becomes important when we want to know about the journey a thing takes, so what about measuring the distance the produce in your meal took to arrive at your plate?”

The assumption with GPS is that it is accurate; unfortunately, the truth is somewhat different. “A smartphone will rarely get better than a 20 mile radius under the best circumstances, and that is when the application is in the foreground rather that just chugging away behind the scenes,” says Cadell. “Most units will try to use cell tower triangulation to supplement the GPS accuracy, or fill in the gaps caused by the urban canyon effect: big tower blocks scattering the GPS satellite signal. Cell tower triangulation is notoriously inaccurate too, but adds another source to help corroborate a location. Over time, we can look forward to a better accuracy of devices and a vast array of tracking possibilities.”

Ben Levitan, an author of three books on GPS and an expert on cell phones, GPS, and location services says that the GPS technology in the labs now will be in the market shortly. “Currently, GPS is accurate to 300 feet; down from 900 feet when the US government was putting an intentional inaccuracy into the system so only the US military could get full accuracy. President Regan lifted that so commercial use would flourish and it did,” he says. “Today, the Japanese have been able to enhance techniques that allow for greater accuracy, such as enabling a car to drive itself 40 blocks at a speed of 15 mph without human intervention. This opens the door for some amazing services.”

Levitan says that there are more companies producing GPS chips, making them cheaper and better. “The speed of a GPS chip warming up is a big problem. Cell phone companies have solved this problem by using cell towers that have known fixed GPS locations to assist GPS devices in starting up quickly,” he says. “But, there are always problems. The downside to all this is that GPS is likely to deteriorate privacy. GPS is in your phone, your computer, your car, and before long will be on your kid, mail packages, and anything else that moves.”

SeanJC, an IT strategist, thinks that the next trend for GPS enabled handsets will be increased integration, such as finding a store on your phone and then having some kind of offer or promotion to use when you get to the store. “This is under consideration in companies such as AT&T and O2,” he says. “The main challenge to this will be informing users on exactly how to find a store based on current location and have the services that provide location-based searching automatically.”

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