GPS and its Emerging Role in Cellular Phones and Car Navigation Systems

A group project for ES/EB 351 by Jeremy Aber, Jerry Harvey, and John Inmon.

December 10th, 2003

A Brief History of GPS

For centuries people have been developing techniques to figure out their position on Earth. We have come from using the stars, all the way to sending satellites into orbit. GPS has “evolved” from the forerunners with the United States Navy to the twenty four-satellite constellation that it is now. Following the launching of Sputnik in the 1960’s the Navy ran two programs that were predecessors to GPS. The first operational satellite based navigation system was called Transit. Developed by Richard Kirschner in 1964, it consisted of seven satellites and used radio signals.


The second satellite navigation system built in 1967 was called Timation. This system improved upon the Transit system by using an atomic clock. The drawbacks for the Transit system were its accuracy and its inefficiency. (GPS History) In 1973, the Navy and Air Force teamed up and formed the Navigation Technology Program, which became Navigation System and Ranging or NAVSTAR. (Meyers, et al. 2003) The first four satellites were launched in 1978. It currently contains twenty-four satellites that circle the Earth every twelve hours. Availability is increased and mobile vehicles do not have to wait for readings, as with previous systems.

Although GPS's use was at first strictly military, it has since moved to the private sector; although, for national security reasons, the public's system is not as accurate as the military system. The military system allows an accuracy of 10m while the public's system may only be accurate up to 100m. Within four to ten years the more precise system will be released to the public. The lag time is purposely built in to allow our military to prepare for potential enemies to receive the system. (Rosenberg 1997)

GPS and its Role in Automobiles

GPS is utilized for a wide variety of applications in our personal cars. The first and most obvious is navigation. The GPS system alone is not enough for the every day person to successfully navigate though. The only way a GPS system can guide you to your destination is if you have the coordinates for where you would like to travel. Even then point a and point b are usually not connected in a straight line. You must follow the road system to reach your destination. (Walczak 2003)

A GPS navigation system in a Volvo S40

To get around this the GPS system is usually used in conjunction with a computer in the vehicle. The computer has road maps stored in its system as well as GPS coordinates. The user simply tells the computer where he or she would like to go. The computer uses the GPS to determine the users current location and the coordinates of the destination. It then pulls up the appropriate maps and highlights the correct route. Several newer systems even give the user turn by turn audio directions to the destination.

GPS is also very useful in emergency situations. If your car is stolen, the GPS receiver that is mounted on your vehicle can be used to tell its location and aid law enforcement in its recovery. Several in car navigational services offer a system that detects airbag deployment and notifies emergency services of your location. This dramatically speeds up response times and gives the user a greater chance of surviving an accident. (Intro to GPS Apps 2003)

Several benefits offered by vehicle navigation devices rely in one way or another on GPS. Onstar, one of the leading providers of this service offer their customers several convenient options. GPS can be utilized to locate your vehicle and automatically lock or unlock it. On some models the system can be used to diagnose car problems such as a check engine light or strange noises. The program can even use GPS to locate your car and flash the lights or sound the horn if you forget where you parked. (Learn More: What is OnStar 2003)

GPS also has business applications. A larger company with many vehicles such as UPS or Fed Ex may use GPS to track their fleet. This allows instantaneous updates on the status of deliveries and the vehicles carrying them. This system (fleet tracking) consists of: a vehicle locating device, in which GPS or another system such as Loran is used to know the physical location of each vehicle, a vehicle mounted communications device to send the vehicles location and status to a control center, a communications network to relay data transmitted from the vehicle to the control center, and a computerized information center to allow the processing of the information received from each vehicle. (Intro to GPS Apps 2003)

Another interesting application of GPS in personal or commercial vehicles is the idea of an automated driving system. Several prototypes are being worked on. One, Navlab incorporated a video camera and a GPS system to drive from Pittsburgh to San Diego in 1995. It drove a total of 98.2 percent of the distance (some 2,849 miles on Interstate highways). This system could eliminate much of the traffic jams and congestion that plague our interstate and highway systems. (Tenenbaum 1997)

GPS and its Uses in Cellular Phones

Cellular phones have changed much over the last few years. Just ten years ago, cell phones were bulky, expensive, poorly supported, and out of the reach of many. Today, cell phones are so popular that you can't go a single block without running into one. Some people have even dropped their landline phones because their cellular phones were cheaper and more useful. As cell phones have become more popular, many manufacturers have added features that make them more attractive to consumers. Along with things such as internet access and digital cameras came GPS abilities.

One key aspect of cellular phones that makes them different from landlines is that

The orbits of GPS satellites around the Earth

they are mobile. So whereas a landline is stationary and could be traced to a specific point, cellular phones couldn’t. Until GPS hardware was added to them, that is. The addition of GPS hardware to cellular phones has created many advantages, along with some problems. First and foremost is what is called E911, or Enhanced 911. The traditional 911 system used by landlines is for emergency situations, where time is of the essence. However a cellular phone that cannot be located manages to easily defeat this system. With no location to go on, 911 operators were forced to use the caller to tell them where to send help. 911 callers aren’t necessarily in the best state of mind, and in many cases are in shock and may not be able to provide good answers to operators’ questions. In the case of a motorist or hiker calling 911 from a cellular phone, they may honestly have no idea where they are. This defeats the purpose of the 911 system altogether, as no one can help the caller. However, with the E911 system, a 911 caller can be tracked through GPS technologies. In this way, a caller who is incapacitated, or who doesn’t know their location can be tracked by emergency workers. The FCC has mandated that all new cellular phones be equipped with this technology. (Crouch, 2001)

However, the GPS capabilities of cellular phones do more than just help with 911 calls. With the GPS abilities comes enormous market potential. (Crouch, 2001) One idea is for a system similar to that found in the car navigation devices. If one needed directions, one could open up their phone and the GPS system, coupled with the software in the phone, could tell one the best way to get to where one needs to go. Or if one was lost, the phones could direct that person back to somewhere they were familiar with. Other uses won’t be found so helpful by everyone. Imagine, for example, that you were walking down the street and saw a clothing store. A few seconds later, your phone rings with a message. When you check it, you find an advertisement that tells of a sale at the very store that you just passed. Now, not everyone would be opposed to getting messages like that, but imagine that every few minutes you get new advertisements for different stores you were passing. The spam on your phone could be just as annoying and time-consuming as that in your email is.

Other uses are also of concern to many people. If advertisers can track your movements, then others can too. Many people are worried about the loss of privacy that may come with this technology. Issues that have yet to be resolved included whether or not the government should have access to this network. Should law enforcement agencies (or the military) be allowed to track people by their cellular phones, or should they be forced to get a court order like they currently do with wiretaps? This has already been argued in the courts to a certain extent. (Poulsen, 2003) The FBI was recently denied a tactic which made use of illegal wiretaps through a car navigation system to listen in on the passengers. This could be easily applied to the cellular phone world too. Should they be allowed to track anyone they want? These privacy issues need to be addressed soon, as these technologies have already planted themselves firmly our lives.

Looking Ahead

The Global Positioning System has made many things in our lives easier to accomplish. From finding the best route to the store, to helping save lives through faster emergency response times, GPS has made a huge impact on the way people live. However, along with all its benefits come some problems. Privacy issues and unwanted advertising are problems that many are concerned with, and still need to be addressed before much more time has passed. However, all issues aside, GPS has helped countless people, and these two applications of its technology are welcome ones.



Crouch, Cameron. - Will Big Brother Track You by Cell Phone?. [Online] Available,aid,55986,00.asp, December 10, 2003.

GPS History, Chronology, and Budgets. [Online] Available, December 7, 2003.

History of GPS. [Online] Available, December7, 2003.

Intro to GPS Apps- IVHS & Vehicle Tracking [Online] Available, December 7, 2003.

Learn More: What is OnStar. [Online] Available, December 7, 2003.

Meyers, Dr. Michael D., Dr. Thomas A. Wikle, Joel W. Helmer, Brian Demers, Qian Jiangming. History of GPS. [Online] Available, December 8, 2003.

Poulsen, Kevin.Court limits in-car FBI spying. [Online] Available, December 10, 2003.

Rosenberg, Matt. Global Positioning System (GPS) - Geography - 05/17/97. [Online] Available, December 7, 2003.

Tenenbaum, Dave. Look, Mom, No Hands! [Online] Available, December 7, 2003.

Walczak, Jim. GPS Navigational Aids. [Online] Available, December 7, 2003.

Image Sources:

The NAVSTAR GPS logo. [Online Image] Available, December 10, 2003.

A GPS navigation system in a Volvo S40. [Online Image] Available
S40%20Mk%20II/Interior/003__scaled_600.jpg, December 10, 2003.

The orbits of GPS satellites around the Earth. [Online Image] Available, December 10, 2003.


2003, Jeremy Aber, Jerry Harvey, and John Inmon