Research conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that 64 percent of adult Americans owned a smartphone as of 2015, up from just 35 percent in early 2011. People use their cell phones to do many things online, including listening to music, banking and catching up on the news. Modern smartphones are so sophisticated and have become so pervasive in the lives of Americans that job seekers even use their cell phones to submit applications for work.
While 11 percent of smartphone owners use their cell phones to reserve a taxi or hail a car service on occasion, 67 percent use their smartphones to get turn-by-turn GPS directions to a destination at least once in a while. Although many people take it for granted that their cell phones are readily available to provide accurate directions whenever necessary, GPS technology made its debut in a cell phone less than 20 years ago.
Even though GPS technology is relatively new to the cell phone market, the technology itself has been around for much longer than it has been used in cell phones. In fact, the groundwork for today’s GPS system can be traced all the way back to ground-based radio navigation systems that were used by U.S. troops during WWII in the early 1940s.
The Origins of the Global Positioning System
While today’s Global Positioning System was partially inspired by ground-based navigation systems such as LORAN and Decca Navigator, which were used by the military, the development of GPS was further bolstered by the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first artificial satellite on October 4, 1957. Originally seen as a defeat for the United States in the midst of the Cold War, since America had plans to launch the first satellite into space, the launch of Sputnik turned out to be the most influential catalyst in the history of GPS tracking capabilities.
After Sputnik was launched, a team of MIT scientists led by Dr. Richard B. Kershner studied the satellite’s radio transmissions. As they continued their research, Kershner’s team discovered that the frequency of the satellite’s signal was measurably higher as it approached their location and noticeably lower as the satellite moved away from them during the course of its elliptical orbit around earth. They attributed the difference in signal frequency to the Doppler Effect, which is what causes the timbre of an emergency vehicle’s siren to change as the automobile speeds by.
Since the scientists knew their physical location, they were able to determine where Sputnik was on its orbital journey with great accuracy, simply by measuring the Doppler distortion.
Kershner’s team of American scientists did more than discover they could determine the exact location of Sputnik at any point in its journey around the earth. They also realized they would be able to identity the locations of receivers on the ground, based on their distance from a space satellite. This realization is the basis of today’s GPS system. The GPS receiver in your smartphone or car identifies its location, rate of speed and elevation by measuring the length of time it takes to receive signals from at least four satellites in space.
Some significant developments have taken place since Kershner’s team studied Sputnik’s movements. These developments are directly responsible for the use of GPS technology now being part of daily life for the majority of American citizens.
Here is a timeline that shows how these developments unfolded in past decades:
- 1959: The United States Navy created the first functioning satellite navigation system, which was called “TRANSIT.” The system was launched with six satellites, but eventually 10 satellites were used to locate submarines. With its constellation of satellites overhead, the U.S. Navy was able to record the navigational coordinates of a submarine every hour or every few hours.
This was the first time continuous signaling from space satellites was used successfully to provide information about the location of receivers on the ground.
- 1963: The Aerospace Corporation submitted a military study, which suggested that a constellation of space satellites could be used to send continuous signals to receivers on the ground to locate rapidly moving vehicles on land and in the air. The study provided the conceptual framework for the GPS system that exists today.
- 1967: The U.S. Navy created the Timation satellite. This satellite demonstrated that accurate clocks could be placed in space. The world’s modern GPS system relies heavily on this technology.
- 1978: After spending more than a decade developing NAVSTAR, which stands for “Navigation System with Timing and Ranging,” the military launched the first satellite that was to be part of the NAVSTAR system in February, 1978. The United States’ experimental Block-I GPS space satellites were initially produced by Rockwell International, but today’s satellites are currently manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
- 1978 – 1985: By this time, NAVSTAR was referred to as “the GPS system.” Between 1978 and 1985, the military launched 11 more satellites to test the GPS system. These satellites had atomic clocks, which enabled them to measure signal transmission times with greater precision. Beginning in 1980, the satellites also had sensors, which were designed to identify the launch or detonation of nuclear weapons.
- 1983: Soviet interceptor aircraft destroyed Korean Air flight 007 after it flew into restricted Soviet air space, killing 269 passengers and crewmembers. After this disaster, president Ronald Reagan announced that commercial air carriers would be allowed to use the GPS system to improve navigation and air safety once the system was completed.
- 1985: The United States federal government entered into contracts with privately owned businesses to create “airborne, shipboard, and man-pack (portable)” receivers that would be used in the GPS system.
- 1989: The U.S. Air Force launched the first fully functional GPS satellite, a Block II, using a Delta II rocket. The U.S. Air Force scrubbed its original plan to launch the satellite on the space shuttle after the Challenger disaster occurred in 1986, killing everyone aboard the space aircraft. This was also the year that Magellan Corporation introduced the first handheld GPS navigation device to the consumer market, the Magellan NAV 1000.
- 1990: The Department of Defense used Selective Availability to purposefully decrease the accuracy of the GPS system that was available to civilians. The Department of Defense did this in an effort to prevent foreign entities from being able to use the GPS system to their advantage.
- 1991: In August of this year, the oldest GPS satellite that is still in use was launched.
- 1992: The military’s 2nd Space Wing originally oversaw the GPS system, but it was deactivated in 1992. The 50th Space Wing began managing the GPS system in the same year.
- 1993 – 1994: In December of 1993, the GPS system became operational for the first time. A constellation consisting of 24 satellites was in space by January 17, 1994. In 1994, president Bill Clinton offered the airline industry the assurance that it would be allowed to continue using the GPS system for free “for the foreseeable future.”
- 1995: The GPS system had a complete constellation of 27 satellites in 1995. While only 24 satellites were necessary for the system to function properly, three additional satellites were launched into space as backups, which could be used to rapidly replace a satellite the system was using if it failed. The satellites were positioned so that a minimum of four satellites were visible at the same time, at all times, from any location on the planet.
- 1996: President Bill Clinton issued a directive making the GPS system a dual-use system for military and civilian purposes. Recognizing the GPS system as a national asset, the president also created an interagency executive board to manage the system.
- 1998: Vice president Al Gore released a plan to use the GPS system to transmit two more signals for civilian platforms, with an emphasis on improving aviation safety. Congress passed Gore’s plan, known as “GPS III,” two years later.
- 1999: Benefon, a mobile phone producer, introduced the first cell phone that had built-in GPS capabilities in 1999. The phone was named the “Benefon Esc!” Created as a safety phone, the Benefon Esc! was predominantly sold in Europe.
- 2000: In May of 2000, president Bill Clinton ended the military’s deliberate degradation of civilian GPS signals that had started before the first Gulf War. The accuracy of public GPS signals increased greatly overnight, which caught the attention of business leaders across industries, including the fishing, forestry and transportation industries.
- 2001: Since it was originally introduced, GPS receiver technology became more affordable over time. This made it practical for private businesses to begin producing consumer products that incorporated this technology into their designs. New products, such as in-car navigation tools created by TomTom and Garmin, began to appear in the marketplace.
- 2004: President George W. Bush created the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee to manage the GPS system, replacing the interagency executive board that Bill Clinton had established during his time as the nation’s chief executive.
The same year, Qualcomm announced it had developed technology that allowed mobile phones to use cellular signals together with GPS signals. This combination of signals accurately identified the location of users to within a few feet of their actual physical locations.
- 2005: The initial satellite in the second generation of GPS satellites known as “Block II” was launched into space from Cape Canaveral. These new satellites were able to transmit signals on a separate channel that was exclusively for civilian use.
- 2007: In September, 2007, the United States government announced that the third generation of GPS satellites, GPS III, would be manufactured without the Selective Availability feature. This decision meant that the military would not have the option to deliberately reduce the accuracy of the GPS system when it came to civilian use of the system, as it had years before.
This increased confidence in the GPS system worldwide, because it eliminated the business community’s fear that the government would potentially degrade the system again after companies had come to rely on its current level of accuracy to compete in the marketplace.
- 2010 – 2011: The U.S. Air Force launched two additional satellites into space to ensure the GPS system would remain operational until the Block III satellites were available. While the satellites launched during this time period enabled the GPS system to provide the same level of service to the military and civilians, the Block III satellites were expected to greatly improve the service the GPS system rendered in the future.
- 2011: In June of this year, the U.S. Air Force increased the size of the GPS system’s working constellation into the “Expandable 24” format. To achieve this configuration, the military expanded the 24 satellite slots, repositioned six satellites and made three additional satellites part of the constellation’s working baseline of equipment.
Instead of having 24 satellites, the GPS system had a new constellation lineup consisting of 27 satellites. This change improved GPS service throughout the world.
- 2012: As of 2012, the United States Air Force oversaw the operation of a constellation consisting of 31 working GPS satellites as well as three decommissioned satellites. The non-working satellites could be recommissioned if necessary.
- 2016: As of June, 2016, the GPS system’s constellation included 31 working satellites. This number does not include the decommissioned satellites that can be reactivated if a working satellite experiences a failure. The constellation is actively managed so that a minimum of 24 satellites are available at least 95 percent of the time. GPS satellites are in medium earth orbit approximately 12,550 miles above the earth’s surface. Every satellite in the GPS constellation orbits the earth two times per day.
Today, NASA describes the GPS system as “a multi-use, space-based radionavigation system owned by the U.S. Government and operated by the United States Air Force to meet national defense, homeland security, civil, commercial and scientific needs.
GPS currently provides two levels of service: Standard Positioning Service (SPS) and Precise Positioning Service (PPS). Access to the PPS is restricted to U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Federal agencies and selected allied armed forces and governments. The SPS is available to all users on a continuous, worldwide basis, free of any direct user charges.
Selling GPS Devices
The current owner of Magellan, MiTAC International, is unsure about the date on which the first consumer-level GPS device was sold. What is known, however, is that a UPS driver picked up the first batch of approximately 20 Magellan NAV 1000s from Magellan on May 25, 1989. This shipment of the first consumer GPS devices to retailers marked the beginning of the location-based age.
The Magellan NAV 1000 measured 8.75 x 3.5 x 2.25-inches and weighed 1½ pounds. This waterproof device could float, and it closely resembled a big calculator with a rotating arm that was actually an antenna. The Magellan NAV 1000 had an LCD display that had multiple lines. The device ran on six AA batteries for several hours at a time. The innovative machine retailed for $3,000. Approximately 500 units sold in the first year the Magellan NAV 1000 was available to the public.
When president Bush invaded Kuwait, followed by Iraq in 1991, there were 16 satellites included in the GPS system’s constellation, which gave the system widespread coverage for longer periods of time each day.
Entrenched in war, the U.S.-led coalition of fighting forces purchased thousands of GPS location devices for use in combat. Some soldiers who were unable to get a device through official channels simply purchased a Magellan NAV 1000 with their own money. The use of GPS devices in real-life wartime scenarios was widely publicized during the conflict, and GPS gadgets produced by companies such as TomTom, Garmin and Mio became wildly popular with the public at large as a result.
When president Clinton turned off the GPS system’s Selective Availability, it improved the accuracy of consumer GPS devices to 15 meters. This was also the time that handheld GPS devices that had maps of city streets, as well as the full-color Magellan Meridian Color Handheld GPS Navigator, became available for the first time.
Since the GPS system became operational in the early 1990s, various augmentation systems and techniques have been developed to improve the GPS system’s performance and satisfy specific needs that end users have. One of these augmentations is WAAS, or the Wide Area Augmentation System. When WAAS was created in 2004, the augmentation increased the accuracy of GPS devices to within three meters. WAAS was initially supposed to provide greater accuracy for the aviation industry, but it ultimately provided a secondary benefit as well: turn-by-turn vehicle navigation directions.
Naturally, this led to explosive growth in the demand for both handheld devices and installed navigation systems in automobiles. The federal government’s announcement that the GPS system’s third generation of satellites wouldn’t have the Selective Availability feature in September, 2007, coincided with the decision of smartphone manufacturers to incorporate GPS technology and mapping apps into their mobile devices.
While in-car navigation systems and smartphones might seem like the most appropriate consumer products to pair with GPS technology, both every day and uncommon products have GPS capabilities, including the following:
- Court-ordered ankle bracelets
- Pet collar tags
- Smartphone fobs
- Clothing and luggage tags
- Golf balls with GPS chips
- GPS bullets
Just as a bullet with GPS capabilities can help authorities track a criminal’s vehicle after the thief’s automobile has been struck with one, the GPS system has helped scientists study the movement and behavior of groups of animals. For instance, one group outfitted injured hedgehogs with GPS backpacks so they could study how the animals survived after they were released back into the wild, as part of an effort to boost the species’ overall survival rate.
GPS and Fleet Management
When president Bill Clinton issued a directive to make the GPS system a dual-use system in 1996, it made the daily use of GPS outside of the military more practical and feasible. The policy change initiated by Clinton made GPS available to individual consumers and companies across industries, including the surface transportation industry.
When GPS systems for truck drivers were first introduced, every vehicle that made up a company’s fleet had to be equipped with an expensive GPS receiving device. In addition to high upfront equipment expenses, a business had to pay a monthly fee to use the satellite tracking system that was normally quite high. While even these primitive, costly GPS fleet management systems proved helpful, they were challenging to implement, inconvenient to use and they had high operating costs.
Over time, fleet GPS tracking costs have come down, making it more affordable for businesses of all sizes to use fleet GPS devices in their daily operations. Between 2005 and 2010, revenue from the sale of GPS equipment to commercial business entities increased 55 percent, growing from $25.5 billion in 2005 to $39.6 billion just five years later.
An increase in revenue was recorded between 2005 and 2010, even though the cost of GPS commercial equipment declined significantly during the same period of time. Commercial GPS equipment prices dropped by 46 percent, from $2,454 per piece to $1,968 per unit. The cost of GPS equipment for commercial vehicles fell 56 percent, dropping from $1,968 per unit in 2005 to $873 per piece in 2010.
In a 2011 report entitled The Economic Benefits of Commercial GPS Use in the U.S. and the Costs of Potential Disruption, NDP Consulting reported that industry research suggested that between 50 percent and 86 percent of the world’s companies that have a fleet of vehicles use a fleet GPS tracking system to manage their company vehicles. The report estimated that 67.9 percent of the businesses in the United States that have multiple company vehicles use GPS technology to manage their fleets.
Using a GPS fleet management system provides many benefits to fleet managers and business owners, including cost savings. Areas in which a fleet GPS tracking system may save your company money include the following:
- Labor: According to NDP Consulting’s report, GPS technology is responsible for an 11.3 percent decrease in commercial fleet labor costs. With the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating that commercial truck drivers earned a total of $83 billion in wages and salaries in 2009 and 2010, this equals $6.4 billion in savings on labor costs ($83 billion in earned income x 0.679 GPS technology adoption rate x 0.113 decrease is labor expenditures).
GPS technology can help you reduce your commercial fleet labor costs, because you’ll always know where your drivers are and what they are doing. You can make adjustments to a driver’s scheduled route if a traffic jam arises. You can also use the information your fleet GPS devices provide to identify and eliminate wasteful driver behaviors such as excessive idling, prolonged breaks or unnecessary stops, which delay the length of time it takes to complete a delivery and drive up labor costs.
With a fleet GPS tracking system, you can monitor how your drivers conduct themselves on the road. You’ll be able to tell whenever one of your employees exceeds the posted speed limit, for instance. Since your drivers will know that you’ll be aware whenever they violate a rule of the road, it may decrease the likelihood that they’ll break the law by speeding. In its 2011 study, NDP Consulting reported that companies that used a GPS fleet management system received 40 percent fewer citations for excessive speed.
A GPS fleet management system can also help you manage your vehicles more efficiently, which can help you reduce your labor costs. If your fleet is equipped with fleet GPS devices, you’ll know when a truck returns to your facility and how long it takes to load it for the next delivery run, which gives you the chance to identify areas for improved efficiency. Your system will enable you to make changes to your drivers’ schedule to ensure someone is always available to leave with a loaded truck at the earliest opportunity. In short, a fleet GPS tracking system can help you make sure your facility is operating at peak efficiency at all times.
- Fuel: According to The Economic Benefits of Commercial GPS Use in the U.S. and the Costs of Potential Disruption, the adoption of GPS technology in fleet management resulted in a 13.2 percent reduction in overall fuel costs. With a GPS fleet management system, you can plan routes that are more fuel-efficient for your drivers. Avoiding travel paths that have frequent stops or require hard acceleration often can help lower your fuel bill.
Fleet GPS tracking devices also enable you to react to traffic jams and re-route your drivers in real-time. This can help your drivers get to their destinations despite the tie-up, instead of forcing them to spend hours behind the wheel with their engines running going nowhere. Natural Resources Canada reported that an average vehicle with a three-liter engine goes through one cup of fuel every 10 minutes it spends idling. In a vehicle with a five-liter engine, more than two cups of fuel are wasted when the automobile idles for only 10 minutes.
A fleet GPS tracking system can help you economize on fuel in other ways, too. It can help you monitor the tire pressure on your vehicles and alert you when an adjustment needs to be made, for example. Maintaining proper tire pressure not only prevents premature and costly tire wear, but it also helps your vehicles to get the maximum number of miles out of every gallon of fuel they consume.
You can also use your system to handle pickups more efficiently and save fuel. Since you’ll always know where your vehicles are, you can instruct the driver closest to the client who requested a pickup to visit your client’s location. This ability can help you keep your fuel costs as low as possible, because you can always make sure the nearest driver is handling an unscheduled pickup.
- Capital Equipment: According to NDP Consulting’s research, companies using fleet GPS devices to manage their company vehicles experienced a combined decrease of 13.2 percent in capital equipment expenditures, with most of the savings coming in the areas of maintenance and repair. With a fleet GPS tracking system, you can receive diagnostic trouble alerts that will inform you about the specific maintenance or repair problems your company vehicles are experiencing, which will enable you to schedule them for service in a timely manner before a costly breakdown occurs.
GPS systems for truck drivers provide even more benefits in addition to the ones just discussed. NDP Consulting’s research revealed that companies using a GPS fleet management system recorded a collective total of 45 percent fewer accidents, for instance. These companies also experienced a combined 25 percent increase in work orders due to faster order fulfillment rates. With fleet GPS tracking systems being effective at lowering the incidents of accidents and speeding citations, fleet GPS devices have the ability to help you lower your insurance premiums as well.
GPS technology gives you the chance to improve the level of customer service you provide to your clients, too. A GPS fleet management system enables you to share the location of your customers’ goods with them in real-time. This ability enables you to demonstrate your reliability and trustworthiness by delivering the products they ordered on time. This capability also enables you to respond to your clients’ concerns faster because you’ll be able to let them know when they can expect their products if there’s a problem with the supply chain, and a delivery is late for any reason, more quickly than you’d be able to without GPS technology.
GPS systems for truck drivers also allow you to respond to the needs of your drivers faster. Since you can monitor the location and condition of your vehicles in real-time, you’ll know immediately if one is involved in an accident or is stolen, giving you the chance to take the actions that are necessary to preserve the safety of your employee, vehicle and products.
One of the biggest benefits that GPS fleet management systems provide is helping your vehicles to remain DOT compliant and avoid CSA violations. In 2013, about 25 percent of CSA violations given to commercial fleet drivers, or around 1,000,000 violations, were doled out because of an issue with a vehicle’s brakes. Approximately 11 percent of CSA violations are written because of a vehicle’s tires, about half of which are for a commercial automobile having an insufficient amount of tread on its tires. Since GPS systems for truck drivers are designed to tell you when a vehicle needs to be serviced, GPS technology can help you avoid CSA violations like these.
Fleet GPS devices can also help you stay compliant with the mandates of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA. In December of 2015, FMCSA issued a ruling that requires all commercial vehicles operating in the United States to maintain electronic trip logs instead of paper record-of-duty logs. This means you have to replace paper logs with logs kept up-to-date using electronic devices by December 16, 2017.
Since modern GPS fleet management systems already have the ability to maintain E-logs automatically, using fleet GPS devices can help your drivers remain in compliance with the new law, as well as other FMCSA and DOT mandates.
How Fleet Trax Can Help
As a fleet manager or business owner, you know how important it is to work with people you can trust with some of your most valuable assets, your company’s vehicles and your products. We know how important it is to work with equipment you can rely on to provide the real-time information you need to make critical decisions, as well. That’s why we offer the latest fleet GPS tracking systems to help you manage your team of vehicles and drivers.
Our GPS tracking solutions give you access to your fleet 24 hours per day, seven days per week. We offer hard-wired and smartphone/tablet GPS tracking solutions that can help you stay current with your drivers’ locations, reduce fuel costs, decrease your labor costs and save money on maintenance expenses. While our software is sophisticated enough to do all of these things and much more, our tracking platforms are intuitive and easy to use.
With our GPS tracking solutions, you get:
- Hard-wired and plug-and-play trackers
- A full suite of informative reports
- Customizable alerts
- Maintenance reminders
- Route optimization and replay features
- A Google Maps interface
Our user-friendly GPS fleet management systems enable you to get reports you can use to optimize your operation with just a few clicks. These reports include the following:
- Stop reports
- Idle reports
- Speed reports
- Maintenance reports
Whether your fleet of vehicles consists of a single delivery truck or you own hundreds of commercial vehicles, our GPS tracking solutions are designed to accommodate your business needs. Our scalable fleet GPS tracking systems have helped businesses just like yours enjoy the money-saving benefits that are attributed to GPS systems for truck drivers, and they can help you, too.
Hugh Shields of Gold Coast Eagle uses one of our easy-to-use GPS tracking systems, and he had this to say about his experience with Fleet Trax:
“GPS assures our drivers are following the speed limit and other driving safety protocols. The wear and tear our vehicles take over time is kept to an absolute minimum.”
Travis Johnson of Pro Oilfield Services noticed his company was saving money on fuel after his business implemented one of our GPS fleet management systems, and the company figured out a way to share these savings with its employees. Johnson described his company’s experience by saying:
“Our company now saves at least 10% on fuel expenses per month, and we take that extra money and distribute it among our drivers as a bonus for their adherence to protocol.”
Robert Zogbi of Select Energy Services was impressed by the way our GPS system for truck drivers quickly paid for itself, as well as its monthly charges when he shared the following comment:
“Fleet tracking has really cut down on unnecessary costs like excessive speeding and idling engines. These savings alone have easily paid for the cost of the units themselves as well as monthly charges.”
Fleet Trax is proud to be one of the leading GPS providers in North America, and we’re thrilled that businesses of all sizes continue to trust us with all of their GPS needs. Our mission is to provide you with a state-of-the-art GPS tracking system you can depend on at a fair, affordable price. Our dedicated account managers provide premiere, personalized customer service whenever you have a question about your system. We are a no-contract company, which makes us the ideal choice for seasonal transportation companies that don’t need 12 months of consecutive tracking services.
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